Pressure builds on Govt to devolve northern rail powers


Council leaders in the North have called for the region’s sub-national transport body to be given immediate powers over its rail network following the chaos that followed the introduction of new timetables.

Following the attendance of Network Rail and operators Northern and TransPennine at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), Cllr Blake, leader of Leeds City Council said: ‘It is good that the operators and Network Rail apologised for the chaos that’s been inflicted on passengers since May and acknowledged that lessons need to be learned, however the real issue that emerged today is just how confused and fragmented our rail system is.

Leeds Council leader Judith Blake

‘Indeed, the only thing that is clear is the total lack of accountability among the companies charged with running our railways, with no one person taking ultimate responsibility for ensuring our rail system works for passengers and our economy.’

Ms Blake, who is West Yorkshire’s representative on the Transport for the North board, added: ‘People across our region and the North are being repeatedly let down and it is having a real cost in terms of growth, jobs and the economy – not to mention a personal cost to those affected.

'In the absence of anyone taking control, we need Transport for the North to be given the powers to take on the role now, before further damage is done.’

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, WYCA chair and leader of Bradford Council, said: ‘This morning’s meeting underlined the confused way the rail industry is structured. 

‘This also creates the absurd situation where passengers are paying to compensate themselves through the taxpayer-funded Network Rail while the privately-owned rail operators are investing profits in the state-run European railways, where their parent companies are located.’

The Urban Transport Group, which represents large transport authorities, backed the call, writing on Twitter that ‘the evidence base on the benefits of rail devolution - both for passengers and for the areas served - is compelling’.

The calls come shortly after the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, led by George Osborne, also back Transport for the North to take over the Trans-Pennine franchise. 

Last year it produced a report, Rail Devolution Works, which argued that further devolution would enable areas to transform rail services in a way that supports economic and improving the passengers experience.

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