HOLYROOD and Westminster are on a collision course over UK Government plans to overhaul control of the railways.

Downing Street has announced a new body, Great British Railways (GBR), will take over responsibility for both tracks and trains.

Despite the name, GBR will primarily operate in England, where it will set timetables and prices and sell tickets. It will also manage rail infrastructure in other parts of the UK. It will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end what the Department for Transport branded a "blame-game system" between train and track operations when disruption occurs.

In response to the news, Holyrood accused Westminster of failing to respect devolved control of the railway in Scotland.

It has sparked fresh calls for transport powers to be fully devolved to Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government, which is planning to nationalise train services by March 2022, said: “There is no mention of Scotland in these details, and it is not clear how these proposals will respect the established and successful devolved responsibility for railways in Scotland.

“The white paper will affect Scotland's Railway, yet the Scottish Government has not been consulted on what is now published.

“Our view remains that a public sector controlled, aligned and better integrated railway will deliver for Scotland’s economy and its communities.

"Full devolution of our railways is necessary to ensure that we can deliver the high performing and responsive services that Scotland’s communities and its economy deserves.

"We have made these points strongly and repeatedly to the UK Government, which has chosen to ignore the views of Scottish ministers who fund Scotland’s Railway.”

The National: ScotRail is set to be nationalised by the Scottish GovernmentScotRail is set to be nationalised by the Scottish Government

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The UK Government plan is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams following the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018. It was initially due to be published in autumn 2019 but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.

Boris Johnson said: "I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve. By creating Great British Railways, and investing in the future of the network, this Government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of."

GBR is not expected to be established until 2023.

The plan has also been heavily criticised by unions and opposition politicians.

Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “The Conservatives have admitted that their Frankenstein privatisation experiment on our railways has failed and the franchising of train services has hit the buffers.

“Rather than take the bold action that our rail network desperately needs, this is an attempt merely to paper over the cracks.

“A concessions-based model will still see passengers and taxpayer money leak out of our industry in the form of dividend payments for the greedy shareholders of the private operators who will hold them.

“In some ways we are going back to the future with the creation of a strategic body for our railways. We used to have one called the Strategic Rail Authority and it was abolished because it failed to end fragmentation.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps faced questions about the plans in the Commons. 

He told MPs: "This is not renationalisation, which this Government continues to believes failed the railways – rather it is a simplification.

"While Great British Railways acts as the guiding mind to co-ordinate the whole network, our plan will see greater involvement of the private sector.

"Private companies will be contracted to run the trains and services, and fares will be set by Great British Railways.

"But it'll work more like London buses and London Overground - delivered by private companies but branded as a single national service."

Labour's shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: "While I welcome steps to increase public ownership and control over the railways, as you'd expect, it doesn't go far enough in this current plan.

"I believe there is ample proof that demonstrates that fuller public ownership rather than a concessionary model would better serve the state, the public and long-term investment."