Authorities win joint control over Northern and TransPennine rail services

Local authorities have formed a partnership with the Department for Transport to help oversee the Northern and TransPennine franchises

First Transpennine Express trains
First Transpennine Express trains

Elected councillors will have a say in the franchise arrangements for key regional rail services for the first time, after local authorities in the North agreed an historic deal with Government.

They will be involved in drawing up franchise agreements and picking winners when the Northern and TransPennine franchises go out to tender.

Rather than handing over responsibility for the franchises entirely, the Department for Transport has agreed to form a partnership with councils to give them a role.

But authorities celebrated the deal as bringing the region a step closer towards taking control of rail services.

Councils in the North East have joined forces with those in Yorkshire, Manchester and Merseryside to form a body called Rail North.

The aim is to take control of franchise arrangements for Northern Rail and First TransPennine Express in order to create a better service, setting minimum standards for train operating companies based around the needs of the region.

Ministers have now announced that a joint Rail North/ DfT working group will develop the detail of the partnership proposals for presentation to the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin, and local authority leaders early in the New Year.

New franchises are expected to begin operating in February 2016.

Speaking to The Journal, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said his department would continue to play a leading role for the time being.

He said: “If you look at the size of the area we are talking about, it is 33 different authorities.

“So I’ve got to reassure myself there is a voice for some of the smaller authorities, not just the bigger authorities.

“But yes, we are committed to it because we are committed to working in partnership with the local authorities.”

Authorities had been pushing for more control over the franchise deal in the short term, but they welcomed the new partnership.

Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: “Council leaders in the North East are committed to exploring all opportunities and options for improving rail services and investment in infrastructure, which are key to our future economic success and competitiveness.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Coun Nick Forbes, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to broker this agreement with Government. This will devolve the planning of rail networks and capacity to local authorities who are better placed than Whitehall to manage resources and get greater value for money in the interests of the local population.”

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