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Plans tabled for rail devolution

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Local authorities in London, northern England and the West Midlands have put forward detailed plans to take over rail franchising from the government.

The moves follow a Department for Transport consultation issued last March into how responsibility for rail franchising could be devolved.

Responses to the consultation also show that less fully developed expression of interest in rail have been tabled by the Association of North East Councils, Cumbria CC, Devon CC, Cornwall Council, Merseytravel and the West of England Partnership comprising Bath & North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council, North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council.

There were also concerns raised by other councils about governance and how accountability would be managed for services into adjacent areas.

TfL took over the London Overground network from the DfT in 2007 and Merseytravel, owned by the region’s councils, runs its local network.

But franchising elsewhere remains with the DfT even where services are essentially local.

The DfT said it had no preconceived ideas about how decentralisation would work and would continue to talk to interested local authorities.

Rail minister Simon Burns said: “We are determined to provide the best possible rail services for passengers and ensure that we reduce the cost of running our railways.

“Ensuring decisions are taken by those best placed to make them – those who live and work in those areas – could make certain not only that services are planned to maximise value for money for taxpayers but that passengers get services they need and want.”

Geoff Inskip, chair of the Passenger Transport Executive Group, said: “We are very pleased that there is strong consensus emerging around the benefits of devolving decision making over local rail networks.

“Wherever local rail responsibilities have been devolved we have seen more investment and a better service for passengers.”

Proposals from the Rail in the North consortium would see Transport for Greater Manchester, the South and West Yorkshire PTEs and City of York Council become the franchising authority both for services within their area those that operate beyond them, including the Trans Pennine Express.

Centro, the West Midlands PTE, proposes to commission and manage local rail services within the Birmingham journey-to-work area including routes beyond its boundary.

TfL plans to take over services in the north east and south east of the capital, most of which run short distances beyond its boundary. It has argued that the idea would work financially because it would take the revenue risk.

Rail franchise holders normally bid with substantial premiums to cover this risk, which feed through into needlessly high operating costs and fares, and TfL has said that without this financial burden, it could afford to provide a ‘turn up and go’ service.

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