Derby railway station

Great British Railways – implications of Derby as HQ

Derby railway station Dave Pickersgill / Wikimedia Commons

The East Midlands city of Derby has fulfilled the betting predictions. The favourite has been announced as the headquarters of Great British Railways, the future and overarching management agency that will, eventually, take over from Network Rail. The UK government has implied that the establishment of the headquarters will be transformational for the chosen community, but what that means is only just beginning to emerge.

Derby, around 125 miles (200 km) north of London, certainly ticks all the boxes for the GBRHQ selection criteria. Insiders were not surprised that it beat out the other five shortlisted locations, including the obvious East Coast locations of Doncaster, York and Newcastle-upon-Tyne; the West Coast railway town of Crewe; and the city of Birmingham, the northern terminus for the high speed railway project, HS2.

Key milestone for rail industry

It has always been a workshop of the railway industry, but now Derby is set to be catapulted into the forefront of the running of the railways. The decision, according to the transport secretary Mark Harper, will, put Derby at the heart of Great Britain’s rail industry. “[This] is not only a huge win for Derby, but a key milestone for the entire rail industry across the country”, he said, before putting a political spin on the matter, and passively shunting freight on the slow line once again. “Great British Railways will put the passenger first, promoting collaboration and innovation across a joined-up, efficient and modern network.”

Close up of UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper in smart suit and tie delivering speech at lectern
Mark Harper is the UK Transport Secretary

However, the supporting statement from the Department for Transport makes some attempt to redress the balance. “Passengers and freight customers will be GBR’s key priority”, says the written follow up. “The new body will take control of the industry’s finances to drive efficiency and work with the private sector to deliver for customers. Other towns and cities across Britain, potentially including the five shortlisted cities, will still benefit, becoming regional GBR hubs equipped with local decision making, and investment powers.”

Momentous move and much needed reform

The vast administrative backup staff will not be coming to Derby. GBR will inherit a a shiny and expensive administrative quarter from Network Rail, almost one hundred miles (160 km) south, in Milton Keynes. “The investment we’ll see from this significant move will be huge, not only just for Derby but for levelling up across the whole of the wider East Midlands”, says an enthusiastic and optimistic Chris Poulter, the leader of Derby City Council, the local authority. “We have a rich history of being the only city in the UK to have manufactured rolling stock continuously since 1840, so I’m thrilled that Derby’s heritage is being recognised in this defining way. We can’t wait to see what this momentous move will mean for Derby and its citizens in the future.”

Poster depicting Derby's win as host city for GBRHQ, including trains and Rolls Royce building
Celebratory poster for Derby’s win

If the councillor’s optimism is to be realised, it will be in the jobs attracted to Derby in support of the headquarters, rather than direct executive employment at GBR. In fact, the new management agency has been stressing the devolved nature of the administration. “Great British Railways will introduce empowered regional centres, to bring decision making and leadership much closer to local customers and communities”, said Anit Chandarana, the lead director for the Great British Railways Transition Team. “To deliver this much needed reform and we look forward to working with colleagues in Derby in the coming months.” Right now, that collaboration is likely to start with a tour of local estate agents.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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