The government has pledged to end what it called a quarter-century of fragmentation on the railways under new proposals to shake up the system.
A new public body, Great British Railways (GBR), will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenue, running and planning the network, as well as setting most fares and timetables.
The hope is to refocus on passengers and freight.
GBR will simplify the current mass of confusing tickets with new flexible season tickets and a significant roll-out of more convenient Pay As You Go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.
A new GBR website will sell tickets and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a simple system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.
There will, however, remain a substantial and often greater role for the private sector.
GBR will contract private partners to operate most trains to the timetables and fares it specifies, with a model similar to that used by Transport for London in its successful Overground and Docklands Light Railway services.
The new Passenger Service Contracts will be designed to include strong incentives for operators to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers.
They will not be one-size-fits-all: as demand recovers, operators on some routes, particularly long-distance, will have more commercial freedom.
Affordable walk-on fares and season ticket prices will be protected, the government said.
Prime minister, 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.
The journey to this new passenger-focused model has begun today, transport secretary Grant Shapps said.
New National Rail Contracts will be announced this year.
They will be in operation for 2 years and act as a bridge to reform.
Shapps added: “Our railways were born and built to serve this country, to forge stronger connections between our communities and provide people with an affordable, reliable and rapid service.
“Years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication have seen that vision fade and passengers failed.
“That complicated and broken system ends today.
“The pandemic has seen the government take unprecedented steps to protect services and jobs.”
Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, warned passengers must come first.
“Before the pandemic, passengers had been treated as an afterthought for too long on the railways – so it is good that the government’s plans seek to improve the passenger experience on trains, bring innovation to the ticketing system and make it easier to get compensation.
“The true test of this plan will be whether passengers see real improvements to the way their train services operate, not only adapting to new needs but addressing the old challenges that could cause so much disruption to the lives of those reliant on the railways,” she concluded.