The northern train system is currently in “chaos” due to a “fragmented and complex” web of operators which cannot appear to work together, the Liverpool City Region CA mayor has told LGC.
Steve Rotheram (Lab) has now called on the government to transfer all intra-city rail franchises from private companies to the regional sub-national transport body Transport for the North.
“If Northern Rail don’t adhere to the terms and conditions of the emergency timetable then we should start to take the franchise back across the north of England,” Mr Rotheram said, referring to the Northern Powerhouse partnership area, covering 16 million people.
Disruption across the northern network has been affecting passengers for months, but it has been exacerbated by the recent introduction of a new timetable, problems with staff training, and delays to infrastructure projects.
In referring to the disruption and delays that commuters have faced in recent weeks, Mr Rotheram laid the blame at the door of transport secretary Chris Grayling, who has attracted widespread criticism for his handling of the situation.
“I’m absolutely saying that he’s [Mr Grayling] negligent. He’s failed on the whole Northern Rail issue because he’s been asleep at the wheel and I don’t think he’s done what he needed to do,” Mr Rotheram said.
“He was the one who said Network Rail were negligent, but they report to his department. He should have had a better overview of what happened and stopped them, but he’s failed on that and the buck should stop with him as the secretary of state.”
The Liverpool City Region mayor’s interview appeared to be in line with Greater Manchester CA mayor Andy Burnham’s (Lab) comments to reporters this month, when he called on the government to remove the franchise from Northern Rail as a “very first step towards nationalisation in the long run”.
“The north needs to take much greater control of both infrastructure and services. The [current system] is so fragmented, there are so many operators cutting across each other,” said Mr Burnham.
Liverpool City Region CA is certainly projecting an image of seriousness on tackling the region’s transport problems. It invested £460m last year in new rolling stock for the city region’s train network.
“We invested that money and they’re ours,” said Mr Rotheram. “They’re greener, cleaner and help tackle problems around inequalities and travel.”
Investment of this kind should serve as an example of the potential successes that devolution to a city region level could bring, he added.
“If we had full control of the trains, we would make a better fist of what we’ve got. I just don’t think it’s fair that we’re [currently] being held responsible by our residents when we’ve got one hand shoved up behind our backs. If we had all the bits of the jigsaw under one body - including Network Rail - then we would be able to make a difference,” said Mr Rotheram.
Amid calls for more devolution, Mr Rotheram said the aim for Whitehall should be to rebalance the country’s economy because “UK plc is the most unbalanced economy in the western world.”
The metro mayor said: “The Whitehall model of governance is broken and unless we start to repair the disconnect between the governed and the governing we’re never going to fix the country’s deep problems. It’s not just about the fair funding pot; Whitehall mandarins don’t fully understand what’s going on in our areas.”