Major transport executives have called on Network Rail to hand over commissioning and delivery roles and its ownership of stations, in a stinging criticism of the troubled operator.
The devolution agenda should see responsibilities taken away from Network Rail as it lacks a ‘businesslike and accountable approach’ according to pteg - which represents the strategic transport bodies for the six largest metropolitan regions outside London.
A position paper from the group piled more pressure on Network Rail, following the launch of a review by the national rail watchdog after recent poor performances.
New Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy was parachuted in
The pteg document states current arrangements ‘have proved to be inconsistent and ineffective in delivering improvements in a timely and cost effective way’.
‘The process by which schemes are developed and prioritised is also expensive and overly bureaucratic in itself. Even when schemes make it through this processes cost overruns, delays and de facto cancellation of projects are also far too common,’ the document adds.
‘We are also concerned that there is a lack of a businesslike and accountable approach by Network Rail to clients and funders of infrastructure improvements.’
It went on to suggest there should be an option for devolved entities to take on commissioning and delivery roles where they have ‘the capacity, ambition and capability’ to do so and also suggests there is scope for accelerating the devolution of responsibilities for stations- ‘up to and including transferring ownership from Network Rail’.
After a bruising summer Network Rail was the subject of calls for reform in the Budget, with the Treasury revealing plans to channel public money directly to the train operating companies rather than Network Rail first.
Ministers also parachuted in Sir Peter Hendy, formerly the commissioner of Transport for London, as the new chairman.
Tobyn Hughes, who leads for pteg on rail, said: ‘The reviews currently underway of Network Rail and the wider structure of the railways need to dovetail with (these) devolutionary agendas so that rail investment and delivery can help achieve our local growth priorities, and link up with investment on other modes.
'While we fully recognise the need to protect the integrity and standards of the national rail network, and to ensure that freight and long distance services prosper, we also need a railway that is accountable to the devolved areas it serves.
‘We can ensure that scheme prioritisation ties in with wider regional plans for economic development and multi-modal transport strategies. We can also be an informed and committed sponsor for investment programmes in our areas as we are much closer to the action than Whitehall ever could be. We can also accelerate rail investment and delivery by taking on the job ourselves where there is appropriate scope to do so.'
At the time of writing Network Rail was unavailable for comment.