The wholesale devolution of the Scottish Rail Network has been supported by an advisor in one of the most significant overhauls of UK rail services for decades.
The adviser, Tom Harris has made it clear that he believes that all lines, signals, stations and infrastructure that is owned by Network Rail should be owned by a new body that will become answerable to Transport Scotland and therefore, Scottish Ministers.
Tom Harris was once the Labour Rail Minister, working under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but he believes that the management of Network Rail should be devolved and that also includes all assets.
This would mean that the Scottish Government would take responsibility for the trains and tracks with the aim of creating a more efficient, decision-making process.
Mr Harris said that it would be absurd if Highways England were also responsible for the motorways located in Scotland, yet there is still a UK-wide body that manages and owns the rail lines in Scotland despite the fact that transport and Scotland’s train franchises being devolved.
This plan would need approval from the UK government while a treasure write-off would be needed for the Scottish portion of the £50bn Network Rail debt.
This idea from Mr Harris has already been put to the Williams Rail Review, which he advises from having a place on its expert challenge panel. The review was put in place in September by ex British Airways boss Keith Williams. The review is now considered to be one of the most significant shake-ups of rail services since it was privatised almost three decades ago.
The report from the review will be released in the Autumn of 2019 and with this will come recommendations on the structure of the industry as well as the priorities for passengers and freight will become government policy automatically.
Currently, the rail sector in Scotland is made up of the devolved and the reserved. The train operating franchises are overseen by Transport Scotland but the rail infrastructure is run and owned by Network Rail which is a UK-wide body that is under the UK Transport secretary. The responsibility has been split and the decline in ScotRail’s performance has been highlighted by this with 50% of the problems being related to faults on Network Rail and not the actual trains.