Network Rail is to be stripped of its control over Britain's railway tracks, with new powers being passed to the train operators, in a major reorganisation of the system, it is reported.
The Daily Telegraph said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is preparing to tell the publicly-owned Network Rail that he wants it to share responsibility for running the tracks with the private operating companies.
The move would mean companies such as Virgin, Southern or ScotRail would for the first time be given responsibility for maintenance and repairs, ending Network Rail's monopoly.
Mr Grayling - who will set out his plans in a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank on Tuesday - is said to believe it would incentivise the operators to carry out the work more quickly, reducing delays and possibly leading to lower fares.
The Telegraph said Mr Grayling's support for giving the operators control over the tracks dated back over a decade when he was a Conservative opposition transport spokesman.
He was quoted as saying then: "We think, with hindsight, that the complete separation of track and train into separate businesses at the time of privatisation was not right for our railways.
"The separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways - and hence fares - and has slowed decisions about capacity improvements. Too many people and organisations are now involved in getting things done - so nothing happens."
In response to the report, a Department for Transport spokesman said only: "I can confirm Chris Grayling is making a speech on Tuesday."
For Labour, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said that "privatising" the rail infrastructure would be an "irresponsible move".
"The last thing our railways need is another layer of fragmentation and complexity. Train operating companies will only engage with this if they can extract more profit from taxpayers and fare-payers," he said.
"It's remarkable that operators such as Southern who display a cavalier attitude towards cost cutting and safety might be invited to take responsibility for the repair and maintenance of the tracks.
"The last time the Tories privatised the tracks resulted in a series of fatal accidents that led to the creation of Network Rail in the first place. We don't want to see a return to the bad old days of Railtrack."
A Network Rail spokesman described the Telegraph story as "speculative" but acknowledged that they needed to work more closely with the train operators.
"We strongly believe that there needs to be better alignment of incentives between train companies and Network Rail, and we have already aligned our performance incentives around targets agreed jointly with them, but more needs to be done across the industry," the spokesman said.
"We believe that alliances between devolved Network Rail route businesses and train operators are a natural way forward and are working with the Department for Transport to achieve that."