Local authorities were urged by transport minister Glenda Jackson to put put proposals to the rail franchising director for new local or regional passenger railway schemes.
Replying to the adjournment debate initiated by Denis Murphy, Labour MP for Wansbeck - who argued the case for reopening passenger services on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway - Ms Jackson said
that to encourage investment in the rail network the franchising director had been given two new sources of investment funding: through the rail passenger partnership and the infrastructure investment
Spelling out the role of local authorities in the planning and biding process, the minister said: 'The rail passenger partnership scheme is designed specifically to encourage and support innovative proposals
at the regional and local level that develop rail use, and promote modal shift and integration with other forms of transport. Funding for the RPP scheme will be awarded by the franchising director - as part of the shadow strategic rail authority - and will be channelled through franchised train operators.
'We encourage local authorities and others to present to the franchising director proposals consistent with the strategies set out in our transport white paper. Sponsors should prepare a business case in consultation with the relevant train operator, Railtrack and other local authorities. The business case will allow the franchising director to estimate the likely level of public sector funding required to support the scheme and whether the proposed expenditure represents value for money.
'The franchising director's interim planning criteria will provide guidance to any party submitting a proposal and the government will look to the franchising director to undertake appraisal of any proposal that is put to him objectively, and to give fair consideration to all the proposals for new services that he
Ms Jackson said the reopening of passenger rail services in Wansbeck, south east Northumberland, had been discussed by the county and district councils, the passenger transport executive, the relevant
transport companies and Railtrack. But, she understood, no business case or any proposals from local authorities had been received.
Generally, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising was ready to advise any applicants and would be issuing new criteria for the allocation of financial support for passenger services. These would include appraisal techniques that establish a level playing field for assessing different different forms of transport.
And the minister said: 'The Strategic Rail Authority will form an early view on developing the network in consultation with local authorities, regional planning conferences and other organisations. We have made it clear that local authorities have a fundamental role in initiating local rail schemes'.