PASSENGERS will have read with interest that Grant Shapps has been appointed Transport Secretary by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Chris Grayling, his predecessor, was rarely viewed in a positive light by the media or indeed long-suffering rail passengers and his departure had been long anticipated.

More surprisingly, perhaps, was the low-key announcement that Paul Maynard would be returning as Rail Minister, a role that he previously held between 2016-2018.

One could speculate that his experience was deemed necessary, given the challenges the Department for Transport is currently facing.

Top of the list of concerns for those newly appointed must surely be how best to deal with under-performing rail franchises such as South Western Railway which has been beset by strikes, poor operational performance and financial problems.

It is to be hugely welcomed that the new PM has pledged additional investment in rail. However, the industry also needs significant reform, something which many industry insiders believe the Rail Review, chaired by Keith Williams, will propose later this year.

We already know that its recommendations will include the devolution of power from the Department for Transport to a newly created body set-up to monitor the performance of train operators.

This is something that many campaigners, including ourselves, have long called for. I do, however, question the motivation for singling out the North as being most in need of investment.

Such decisions should be made on a cost-benefit analysis for each region and not primarily motivated for political capital.

Many communities in the South also feel left behind, with limited public transport options and high levels of air-pollution primarily as a result of road traffic.

The latest National Rail Passenger Survey also shows that four of the five train companies with the lowest satisfaction ratings are located in the South.

Never has the case been stronger to reshape how the industry operates and get more people to make the switch from road to rail.

Track capacity needs to be significantly expanded across the country and new entrants need to be encouraged into the market to operate alongside existing franchisees.

Providing choice, as we have seen to a limited extent elsewhere in the industry through open-access providers, will drive up standards and boost satisfaction levels amongst passengers.

We urge the new Transport Secretary and Rail Minister to adopt a different approach and give passengers a railway that is fit for the future.

Jeremy Varns

Campaign coordinator, SWR Watch