Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin met leaders of Rail North Ltd at the Port of Liverpool to sign a formal agreement in a major step towards devolution of rail services in the North.
The step to devolve more power to the organisation in the management of the two key rail franchises in the North of England, Northern franchise and the TransPennine Express (TPE) franchise, which serve more than 1.1 billion passengers a year, will seek to promote rail devolution and improvement of rail services.
We are committed to devolving greater responsibility for decision making on transport matters to local authorities, as we invest record amounts to modernise our railways, rebalance our economy and create a northern powerhouse.Patrick McLoughlin
Mr McLoughlin said: “We are committed to devolving greater responsibility for decision making on transport matters to local authorities, as we invest record amounts to modernise our railways, rebalance our economy and create a northern powerhouse.
“Rail North has already been actively involved in the design of the future Northern and TPE franchises, which will see rail services in the north of England transformed to support economic growth.
“This agreement is a significant step towards full devolution.”
Under the agreement, the Department for Transport will work together with Rail North, through a single joint Strategic Board and management team based in Leeds, to manage and develop these two new franchises once they are let.
A core team of five headed by a Managing Director will be in place at the end of year.
The agreement includes important mechanisms to enable the Rail North authorities to make decisions on changes to their local rail services and make investments in these franchises to make improvements.
It also enables further devolution to take place during the life of the franchises.
Coun Liam Robinson for Rail North Ltd said: “Our partnership approach with the Department for Transport has seen the North’s authorities play an active role in the specification of the new franchises and the evaluation of the bids,”
“Rail North is a groundbreaking regional partnership of 29 authorities coming together for the first time to ensure our rail network can play its part in creating economic prosperity across the north of England.
“I’m delighted that the Secretary of State has signed the agreement.”
Documents were published on February 27 this year, setting set out how bidders for the new Northern and TPE franchises will be required to give rail passengers in the North of England more seats, more services and a brand new fleet of modern trains.
However, transport union representatives said much still needed to be done to improve railways in the north.
Mick Cash of the RMT said: “This is yet more pie in the sky nonsense from the government on the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ when in reality transport services across the region in the real world are lumped with clapped-out, overcrowded trains with any replacement programme light years off in the future.
“The lashed-up Pacers will be running for years to come and the threat that they will be joined on Northern routes by old Underground trains remains very real. On top of that there remains a threat to jobs, services and safety in the drive for fatter profits from the new Northern and TPE franchises.”