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Britain to shake-up railways, could re-open closed routes

[LONDON] Britain set out a plan to shake up its railways on Wednesday by bringing track and train operations closer together, increasing capacity by opening up some lines closed decades ago and splitting up some franchises.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said the rail system was "bursting at the seams" after massive growth in passengers in recent years, and it needed a new model for the 2020s and beyond.

"Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service - and I will deliver it by ending the one-size-fits-all approach of franchising and bringing together the best of the public and private sector," he said.

Passenger and freight rail services were privatised in the 1990s, when routes were grouped into franchises runs by a single operator. The rail network infrastructure is owned and managed by the government-owned Network Rail.

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Mr Grayling said a new generation of long-term regional partnerships, starting with the East Coast Mainline in 2020, would bring privately run trains and publicly owned track together under a single management.

His proposals also include smaller franchises, such as splitting up the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise serving London and parts of the south east in 2021, and consulting on breaking up the Great Western franchise, which is currently run by FirstGroup.

The government said it would also look into reopening some of the routes closed in the "Beeching Cuts" of the 1960s, when Britain's rail network was radically scaled back in an attempt to stem losses at a time when car use was rising.

It is already planning to reopen the line from Oxford to Cambridge, and said it would identify new connections and lines that could be restored to unlock new housing or economic growth and offer good value for money.