The Railways Act 2005 is designed to deal with many of the enduring problems of the railways in Britain, by streamlining the organisation of the national rail system. The Act received Royal Assent on 7 April 2005 and will come into force on a date or dates to be appointed by the Secretary of State.

It will wind up the Strategic Rail Authority, with strategic and financial functions being taken on by the Department for Transport or where relevant the devolved administrations, and its consumer protection functions will pass to the Office of Rail Regulation. Safety functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 relating to the railways industry will also be transferred to the ORR from the Health and Safety Commission/Executive. The ORR will have duty to provide the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales with advice and information. The SRA's assets, rights and liabilities can be transferred to third parties.

Scottish Ministers are given the power to prepare and publish a strategy for carrying out their functions in relation to railways in Scotland, and may take greater responsibility for passenger services and infrastructure relating to Scotland.

Provision is made for public sector funding, giving the Secretary of State power to give financial assistance for any railway purpose and allowing financial assistance to be given by the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales for freight services.

The Rail Passengers' Council is established as a single national body, which will report to the Secretary of State, and regional Rail Passengers' Committees are dissolved.

Procedures for operators and public sector funders to follow when they propose to discontinue all passenger services on a particular line or from a station or close all or part of a network or station are set out, replacing the current procedures, and provision is made for bus franchising for substitution of rail services in an English Passenger Transport Executive area, and for the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales to ensure substitute bus services are provided where a passenger service has been temporarily interrupted or discontinued.

Scottish Ministers will have the power to prepare and revise a code of practice for protecting the interests of disabled rail users in Scotland, and will be able to exercise the functions of the Secretary of State in relation to a railway administration order involving a Scottish railway company.

Amongst the general provisions are arrangements for dealing with the tax consequences of the various transfers under the transfer schemes provided for in the Act.

The Railways Act 2005 is available from the HMSO website at: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2005/20050014.htm along with the accompanying Explanatory Notes at: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/en2005/2005en14.htm

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