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UK unveils rail reform for 'best possible' customer experience

[LONDON] Rail operators in England will be required to manage both train services and track infrastructure under plans set out by the government to create "the best possible" experience for passengers.

The new East West Rail link between the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge will be England's first new integrated rail operation in decades, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will say Tuesday, according to extracts of his speech released in advance by his office. Rail franchises due on South Eastern and East Midlands routes will also have combined operating teams, maintaining both train services and track infrastructure, he will say.

Under the current structure, the state-funded Network Rail manages tracks, bridges, stations and other infrastructure while privately-owned companies operate the train services. The government believes passengers lose out in a system that is too fragmented when it doesn't work properly.

"I intend to start bringing back together the operation of track and train on our railways," Mr Grayling will say. "When things go wrong, a lack of a joined-up approach can make things much worse for the passenger. In my experience, passengers don't understand the division between the two. They just want someone to be in charge. They want their train to work." Mr Grayling is backing the creation of the East West Rail organization, to run services and the track network between Oxford and Cambridge in what has been described as the UK's Silicon Valley. He believes it was a mistake to close down the route between the two academic powerhouses in the 1960s and that it is one of the UK's most important corridors.

"The railways of this country are crucial to its economic future," he will say.

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The East West Rail group will secure private sector involvement to "design, build and operate the route" between Oxford and Cambridge as an integrated organization, Mr Grayling's office said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.


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