Ministerial visit to discuss terms of rail devolution deal

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin will meet with council leaders from across the North of England in Manchester today to discuss the next stage in decentralising control of rail franchises.

The Rail North Partnership unveiled in November by the Department for Transport and a group of local authorities, led primarily by Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, will allow for local decision-making about rail investment when the Northern and TransPennine franchises are renewed in 2016.

At Friday's meeting, due to be held in the Manchester Central convention centre, a joint Rail North/ DfT working group will present a detailed report on the partnership proposals to the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin, and north of England local authority leaders.

The process of replacing the franchises for TransPennine and Northern rail services, which could be merged into a single franchise under the new deal, will begin formally in mid-2014, and include a public consultation on future rail services in the North. Operators are expected to be confirmed in late 2015, and the new franchises begin in February 2016. The Northern franchise is currently operated by Serco-Abellio; TransPennine by First Group & Keolis.

Under the present regime, local passenger transport executives such as Transport for Greater Manchester are co-signatories to the franchises but final decisions on specification and funding rest with DfT.

TfGM, part of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, has been instrumental in arguing for local control, which it said would enable services and budgets to take account of "new rail infrastructure such as the Northern Hub or electrification; rolling stock changes, related to electrification and replacement; Network Rail's decentralisation agenda".

Talks today will include trying to agree the financial settlement to pay for the significant running costs, currently met by DfT centrally.

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The potential issue is that TfGM and their West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire counterparts will have too much control and so the counties (Lancashire, Derbyshire, Cumbria etc) won’t have influence over their services.


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