The timetable for the next round of rail franchises was published by the Department for Transport on Tuesday and left the door open for control to be handed to authorities in the North.
Local transport authorities in Greater Manchester, South and West Yorkshire last year lodged a formal proposal with the Government to devolve control of rail services. The three signatories want to merge the current Northern and TransPennine franchises and manage them from the region, rather than from London.
See regional schedule below
No formal decision about the merger of TransPennine and Northern franchises was contained in Tuesday's announcement by the DfT. The scheduled end dates were set 12 months apart. Transport for Greater Manchester wanted both to end on 31 March 2014 to make merger easier. However, the new contracts do have the same start date of February 2016 which could leave the door open to merger.
A spokesman for the DfT said the review into rail franchising published in January by Eurostar chairman Richard Brown recommended devolution among its findings. He added the DfT was still considering the best approach going forward and no decision about devolution had been made yet.
Today's schedule was published in response to another of Brown's recommendations: that the Government should stagger the contests to ease the pressure on transport ministers and civil servants. DfT was heavily criticised for the debacle over the West Coast franchise contract and the ongoing tussle between First Group and Virgin Trains.
No one was available from TfGM for immediate comment.
Schedule for franchises with North West routes:
- Current operator Serco-Abellio
- Franchise ends April 2014
- Next franchise starts February 2016
- First Group & Keolis
- Ends April 2015
- Starts February 2016
- East Midlands
- Stagecoach Group
- Ends April 2015
- Starts October 2017
- West Coast
- Virgin Trains
- Ends November 2014
- Starts April 2017
- Wales & Borders
- Arriva UK Trains
- Ends October 2018
- Starts October 2018
- London Midland
- Ends September 2015
- Starts June 2017
For the months between the end of the current franchises and start of the next there will either be franchise extensions and or direct awards of new franchise contracts.