Regional transport bosses have backed ministers’ plan to stabilize and reform the rail industry but called for more decentralisation and devolution.
Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Transport North East and lead board member on rail for the Urban Transport Group, said: ‘Now there is greater stability, there is also the opportunity to ensure that co-ordination between national rail services and wider urban public transport networks is strengthened so that we are consistent across modes on the advice we are giving passengers and in order to maximise and co-ordinate the available socially distanced capacity.
‘With greater stability, there is also now the basis for further reform by extending the benefits that devolution of responsibilities for rail to devolved authorities and administrations has already brought to places like London and Liverpool.’
Mr Hughes added that today’s announcement provides ‘an opportunity to put similar longer term funding arrangements in place for our light rail networks, for which the latest short term funding deal runs out on 26 October’.
He said: ‘ We should also follow the precedent now set by rail and move to a similar contractual approach between city region transport authorities and bus operators as now exists between national government and rail operators.’
Sub-national transport body Transport for the North (TfN) said it ‘remains committed to putting passengers at the heart of rail reform’.
David Hoggarth, strategic rail director, said: ‘This is a significant moment for our railways with franchising as we know it ending after 24 years. The Department for Transport has made clear to us that our work in jointly overseeing rail operators in the North will continue under the Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements.
‘We have seen significant progress towards greater oversight in the North, both since the timetable crisis of 2018 and throughout the pandemic. Local decision-makers have helped shape operating decisions for the benefit of passengers and this needs to continue.
‘These new transitional contracts will help us prepare for further reform as we work towards a more cohesive railway which can respond better to passenger needs as reflected in our submissions to the Williams Review.’
TfN pointed out that its submission to the review called for more decentralisation.
It said it will continue to jointly oversee the performance and development of rail operator TransPennine Express with the Department for Transport and continue to jointly oversee the operations of Northern Trains Limited, which is not affected by today’s announcement as it is in the hands of the Operator of Last Resort.