Bid for rail devolution gathers pace

Transport authorities in Greater Manchester, South and West Yorkshire have formally proposed to the Government that decisions about rail services in the North should be devolved to the North.

A combined franchise to succeed the current Northern and TransPennine franchises should be specified and managed from the region, rather than from London, the three signatories argue.

Their combined proposal is to drive economic growth by increasing capacity for people to get to work, more frequent and faster services between the main centres of the North, and improvements at stations and in rolling stock.

Cllr Andrew Fender, chairman of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: "Our proposals for rail devolution will build on the strong working relationships the north of England has developed, for example, in making the case over the past three years for the Northern Hub [Network Rail programme]. By creating a common approach across the North we believe we will be able to secure improvements to the railway that are better focussed on the needs of the North.

"Our aim is to shape services at local levels, while at the same time working together on region-wide issues such as developing better inter-regional services between major centres through further electrification. We all share a strong interest in ensuring rail in the north plays a bigger role in contributing to rebalancing the UK economy. We also want to get the best out of the £1bn Government has already committed to the Northern Hub and north of England electrification programmes; these programmes will deliver benefits that spread from Liverpool, to Newcastle, and from Carlisle to Hull."

The proposals were approved at the May executive meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

With over 80% of local and regional train services running through their areas, West Yorkshire and York, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester would make up the core members of the new franchising body, and work with authorities across the North to develop strategies, specifications and manage future franchises.

A key challenge faced under the new arrangements would be the upgrade of rolling stock. Cllr Mick Jameson, chairman of South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, said: "A key outcome from this process is to provide a framework for investment in better trains, so that there is more capacity for growing passenger numbers, and trains are of increasing quality to attract more people to the railway.

"Enabling us to react quickly to local needs will greatly enhance the attractiveness of rail for commuters and leisure travellers alike, provide economic incentives for businesses, and improve the case for further investment. Public consultation of the specifications for the new franchise will begin later this year."

If approved, the Northern and Transpennine franchises could be re-let by the new body as one franchise starting in 2014 or 2015.

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