The William-Shapps Plan for Rail has been published and is set to integrate railways and deliver passenger-focused travel.
The Government said it will introduce the biggest reform to the railway in three decades by bringing railways together under a new public body – Great British Railways (GBR).
The body will run and plan the network, own the infrastructure, and collect most fare revenue. It will procure passenger services and set most fares and timetables.
The Government said it will also make railways easier to use by simplifying fares and ticketing, providing more ways to pay with contactless, smartphone and online, and protecting ‘affordable’ walk-on fares and season tickets.
Rail services will be better coordinated and integrated with other transport services such as trams, buses and bikes, it said.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: "The pandemic has seen the Government take unprecedented steps to protect services and jobs.
"It’s now time to kickstart reforms that give the railways solid and stable foundations for the future, unleashing the competitive, innovative and expert abilities of the private sector, and ensuring passengers come first.
"Great British Railways marks a new era in the history of our railways. It will become a single familiar brand with a bold new vision for passengers – of punctual services, simpler tickets and a modern and green railway that meets the needs of the nation."
England’s rail system cost £17.4 billion, including £5.1bn from taxpayers, according to the latest financial overview for 2019-20 from the National Audit Office (NAO).
GBR will contract private partners to operate the trains to the timetable it sets. The contracts will include incentives for operators to run high-quality services and increase passenger demand, it said.
There will also be the opportunity for the private sector to innovate in areas such as ticket retailing and data to be used by passengers.
As demand recovers from the pandemic, long-distance routes will have more commercial freedom to attract new passengers.
The Government said it will continue to invest tens of billions of pounds in new lines, trains, services and electrification.
The call for evidence supports the Williams Rail Review.
The Williams Rail Review was established in September 2018 to look at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered.
Video: William-Shapps Plan for Rail
Smart Transport member England’s Economic Heartland welcomed the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, describing it as a "watershed moment for our nation’s railways".
Mayor Dave Hodgson, chair of England’s Economic Heartland’s Strategic Transport Forum, said: "This provides the opportunity to ensure rail’s potential is maximised and allows us to work with our partners to align investment in local connectivity.
“Our railways must be at the heart of the country’s decarbonised transport system – it’s why delivering East West Rail is of such importance for the Heartland and the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.
"We need the move to electrify the wider rail network taken forward at pace.
"We must continue to see investment in rail as a catalyst for restoring passenger confidence and supporting sustainable economic growth, with stations acting as focal points for the communities they serve.
“EEH – and the other sub-national transport bodies - are uniquely positioned to work with Great British Railways to deliver a network which puts the user at its core.
"This includes working together to improve the planning and provision of rail freight – a crucial aspect of maximising the potential of a 21st century rail network which supports the decarbonisation of the wider transport system.
"It’s why EEH continues to press for delivery of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton corridor improvements.
“In working with Great British Railways EEH will build upon the strong working relationship with Network Rail and the wider rail sector, which has provided the basis for developing a rail investment programme for the region and which has directly informed our Transport Strategy.”
The West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE) also welcomed the publication and believes the the plan can help the rail network adapt and meet changing post-COVID requirements.
Cllr Peter Butlin, chair of WMRE, said: “This is an historic moment for the West Midlands rail network as it brings to an end a quarter of a century of inefficient fragmentation within the rail industry.
“The Williams-Shapps Plan sets out a clear vision for a greener, more customer-focussed railway, based on collaboration and the devolution of key decision-making to the most appropriate regional level.
“The rail industry urgently needs to adapt to the changing post-Covid requirements of passenger and freight customers, and the proposals put forward in today’s Government White Paper should help ensure that the railway is able to respond to current and future challenges in a more effective, more efficient and more sustainable way.”
Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s interim chief executive, said: "The North saw first-hand the effects of a fragmented rail industry during the 2018 timetable crisis.
"The fact that Great British Railways will bring track and train together as the guiding mind and put the needs of passengers first is a giant leap forward and something we’ve championed.
“This is a major national moment and a shift in how the railway is run.
"But this national approach must not be a missed opportunity for further devolution, giving the North’s leaders greater oversight of services and infrastructure investment to deliver more integrated regional networks that work for all.
“The commitment to growing and investing in the railway over the next 30 years only emphasises the real need for the Government to publish the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands without delay, to give us much-needed certainty on delivery of major schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and the Transpennine Route Upgrade.
“As an established and effective partnership in the North of England, Transport for the North will collaboratively engage with Government as it begins to work through the detail and we stand ready to drive positive change in the interest of our passengers.”