Plans to devolve powers over local rail services to the West Midlands are making ‘good progress’ according to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
After members of the West Midlands Rail (WMR) consortium submitted a bid for rail devolution last autumn, Mr McLoughlin has now confirmed action is being taken to put greater responsibility over the commissioning and managing of services in local hands.
Collaboration between the Department for Transport (DfT) and the 14 local authorities that constitute the WMR is expected to deliver a new rail franchise for the region in 2017.
Only Merseyside and London currently have locally managed rail networks, with both regions widely recognised to be reaping significant benefits in passenger satisfaction and service punctuality.
The Rail North group of roughly 30 local authorities is also in line to take control of Northern and TransPennine franchises after signing a partnership understanding with the DfT.
Mr McLoughlin met with WMR representatives during a visit to Wolverhampton on Monday and emphasised his commitment to devolving rail powers.
‘Giving local areas a greater say over how their train services are run can help drive the improvements to our railways that passengers want,’ he said.
‘I am pleased that good progress is being made with the WMR consortium to do this in the West Midlands.’
Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council and chair of WMR, welcomed the ongoing support from the DfT to develop the franchise.
‘Not only does this help put us on the road towards better rail services, it endorses the way West Midland councils are working together in pursuit of a common cause,’ Cllr Lawrence said.
‘Holding more responsibility locally can help ensure future development of the network is best targeted for economic growth and jobs. This includes developing the network in a way that can secure the maximum economic benefits possible from HS2.
‘That's why the West Midlands authorities have come together on this and are united in their support for a greater role in the way local train services are specified and managed.’
Cllr Mark Winnington, Staffordshire CC’s cabinet member for economy, environment and transport and vice chairman of WMR, added: ‘Including local people and knowledge in the management of the region's network can bring a better understanding of what passengers and businesses really need. We are therefore pleased that the Government is keen to continue working with the West Midlands towards full devolution.’