The Prime Minister has spoken of his intentions to allow northern communities to take more control over their rail services.
Speaking in Rotherham, Boris Johnson said that his plans will give local people more power over how their trains are run, including the frequency and fares, as well as allowing them to hold local providers to account.
“I am announcing my intention to give the railways of the North back to the people of the North,” he said. “Back to the places where they were born. Back to Stockton and to Darlington. Back to Liverpool and Manchester.
“On local lines in metropolitan areas, we will give greater control over fares, service patterns, rolling stock and stations.
“And outside the combined authority areas, I want communities to take control too.
“That might be through county councils taking on similar roles, in their areas, for stations or branch lines. Or it might be by transferring local branch line and rural services to community rail partnerships, owned by local people.
“And as you have asked, we will give you far greater control over your budgets.”
Many of the North’s local services, including Merseyrail, the Manchester Metrolink, and the Nexus Tyne & Wear Metro, are already run by, or on behalf of, locally elected politicians. “They’re always going to care more about their trains and trams than someone in Whitehall,” the Prime Minister said.
While he lamented that fact that many northern cities still have “to put up with old diesel trains, running once or twice an hour, from stations where the only form of welcome on the platform is a bus shelter,” he had a word of warning too: “As well as taking power, you will have to take responsibility. That means, alongside taking the credit, you will be taking the heat.”
Although this move to hand down more control, in partnership with the railways, is one of the first recommendations from the awaited Williams Rail Review, led by independent chairman Keith Williams, the Prime Minister also made one thing clear.
“The North’s railways must still be part of the national network, which passengers tell us they want, with many trains obviously running across the boundaries of the region. So there still has to be a role for the centre,” he said.
“This will be a partnership between the railway and the leaders of the North. And I think it’s a formula that can work and will deliver better services for the people of this country.”
The industry responded positively to the Prime Minister’s pledge.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, commented: “Giving local people a greater say over their trains will help to improve services for passengers and communities while boosting accountability. The railways need big, bold, once in a generation reform. Much of what has been announced today mirrors the industry’s proposals for change and supports the case for a new body, independent from government and rail companies, to ensure that local decisions work in the context of a national network.
“Further change is needed, not least reform of the outdated regulations underpinning the rail fares system, and we await full details from the Williams review with interest.”
David Sidebottom, director of independent watchdog Transport Focus, added: “Passengers will welcome the increased focus on their needs and local accountability. They tell us they want a railway they can trust, simple to use and know who is in charge, both locally and nationally.
“However, the railway is structured, it must work for all passengers no matter how long or short their journey. The acid test of any changes will be when passengers tell us they are satisfied with the reliability of trains and value for money of their tickets.”