Trains should be run by a 'Fat Controller' not the Government, says man tasked with reviewing railways

Gareth Davies
In Thomas The Tank Engine, the fictional Fat Controller manages the railway network by himself

The rail network in Britain needs to be run by a Fat Controller-type figure, the man tasked with reviewing the railways has said. 

Keith Williams, who is chairing an independent review of Britain's trains, is expected to deliver his conclusions in the autumn, but has given a glimpse of his "railway revolution" ahead of a speech on Tuesday. 

Writing in the Financial Times, the former British Airways chief executive said the Government should take a step back from managing the railways. 

He also said simpler fares, easy-to-access compensation and an overhaul of the franchise model were needed after last year's "timetable change chaos".

Mr Williams said: "The Department for Transport understands that its role must be different - Whitehall needs to step back from the operational minutiae."

The new system could replicate that of popular children's television programme Thomas The Tank Engine, where the fictional character The Fat Controller manages the railway network by himself. 

Mr Williams told the Financial Times that tackling fares was "crucial", saying they had not been addressed for 25 years. 

"We need to focus any reforms on a number of essential areas," he said. "First, the railway needs a new offer for passengers, focused on excellent customer service, simpler fares, better communication and easier-to-access compensation.

"To drive all this, rail operating companies must be tracked against performance indicators if we are to bring about genuine changes to behaviour and culture. Tackling fares is crucial."

On the privatisation of the railways, he said that "franchising in its current form has had its day".

His proposals would have "clearer accountability for the public when things go wrong," Mr Williams said. 

"A railway revolution will require determination and tough decisions. It will also need trust and partnership between government, industry and passengers.

"It will be down to ministers to decide the shape of these reforms. But travellers must start to see the results of real changes, and soon."