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Comment: We need the return of the Fat Controller to keep government meddling off our railways

If Thomas and his tank engine pals got into a pickle, the Fat Controller would always sort them out.

So good on Keith Williams, running the government’s review of rail, to call for the fat controller’s return in the real world to take responsibility for our absurdly overcomplicated train services.

In a speech today, the former British Airways boss calls for a new body to take independent oversight of the fragmented network. Crucially, one that will take responsibility away from government.

Currently, instead of fast decision making to help passengers get better services, the Department of Transport blob has slid into every area of the service, slowing up operators’ ability to get things done.

To change a few stops on a six-times-an-hour route to serve shifting demand takes aeons to navigate through the mandarins. There are millions of different fares requiring DfT approval to modify.

Williams wants rid of the regulatory creep that has festered since fares were last reviewed in 1995.

He wants to copy the innovations in airlines, where a huge ticketing industry has created competition and better services.

Think: a national system like you get on Transport for London where you can tap your contactless card for any journey in the knowledge that the fare will always be the cheapest.

Williams also wants changes to the franchising model which has seen the Government put so much risk on private operators that most British ones have pulled out.

Everything he says makes sense, albeit thin on detail. Rightly, he’s keeping his powder dry until he knows who that other fat controller is going to be — the Prime minister.