Six Scottish contenders for Great British Railways HQ despite role in Scotland unclear

Six places in Scotland are among those bidding for the headquarters of a new UK Government body which will take over control of Britain’s railways – even though it is still unclear what role the organisation will have north of the Border.

Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife, Motherwell, Perth and Stirling were announced on Friday among 42 areas which have expressed interested in hosting the head office of Great British Railways (GBR) which is to be sited outside London.

GBR is due to become the network’s “single controlling mind”, bringing together the currently separate track owner Network Rail and train operations.

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However, nearly a year after the shake-up was announced, the Scottish Government said it still did not know how GBR would operate in Scotland, where most rail powers are devolved.

Scottish ministers already control Network Rail spending and will also take over the running of ScotRail in two weeks’ time, having previously been in overall charge of the currently private-run franchise.

GBR is due to announce a shortlist of headquarters locations in May, with the winner to be chosen in an online public vote.

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It said the office would be the “heart of the rail network and provide strategic direction for the running of GBR”.

The shortlist will be chosen using criteria such as the UK Government’s “levelling up” agenda, transport links and railway heritage.

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Edinburgh is one of six Scottish contenders bidding to secure the headquarters of Great British Railways. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Other areas with strong rail connections to have bid include Birmingham, Carnforth, Crewe, Darlington, Derby, Eastleigh, Swindon and York

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GBR has provided no estimate of job numbers for its headquarters, stating only that the office is expected to house a “modest staff” that would include a “number of high-skilled jobs” and be established “in the next few years”.

A series of “regional headquarters” will also be established.

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GBR said it would “integrate the railways and deliver simpler, cheaper, passenger-focused travel”.

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Andrew Haines, the leader of the Great British Railways transition team and Network Rail chief executive, said: “We are going to make the railway simpler and better for everyone in Great Britain and to do that we must get closer to the communities we serve.”

However Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland said it still did not know how GBR would operate while also respecting devolution.

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Bill Reeve, its head of rail, told MSPs on Tuesday: “Are we clear as to how this will be applied in Scotland? The answer is no.”

He said there had been “constructive dialogue” with UK Department for Transport officials but no firm proposals.

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Mr Reeve said GBR was intended to be a “single controlling mind for the railways of Great Britain”.

However, he said it was “not yet clear” how that could be reconciled with GBR also “continuing to respect the devolved responsibilities of the devolved administrations”, which he said was “the least we would expect”.

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UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It is brilliant to see so many places across the country come forward to be the new home of Great British Railways.

“All the entries show just how proud we should be as a nation of our long railway history.”

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