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West Midlands councils submit bid to control local rail services

Councils across the West Midlands are trying again to take control of the region’s rail services from the Department for Transport.

Metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities from across the region met at the County Buildings in Stafford yesterday to endorse the submission document, ‘West Rail Midlands Rail Proposition 2014’, which is being submitted to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

The councils applied to the DfT for more rail powers in late 2013, but the government rejected their case to take full control.

Following the breakdown of those talks, Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, who has been leading the push for devolution on behalf of 14 authorities in the region, wrote to McLoughlin expressing the strong commitment in West Midlands for devolution. His letter said: “We welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this in greater detail, as a tremendous amount of work has been done to date, resulting in a strong commitment to devolution in the West Midlands.”

Yesterday’s event also marked the launch of West Midlands Rail, a consortium of 14 authorities: Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Herefordshire, Northamptonshire, Sandwell, Shropshire, Solihull, Staffordshire, Telford and Wrekin, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire..

If the government agrees to the rail devolution proposition, West Midlands Rail will become responsible for overseeing local rail services once the existing London Midland franchise ends in 2017. 

It will manage the process to appoint a new operator, and then oversee the new train operations in a partnership with the DfT.

Cllr Lawrence, who will be chairman of West Midlands Rail (WMR), said: “The submission of this proposition is a major step towards securing local management and ultimately delivering better rail services focused on the real needs of West Midlands passengers.

“The local rail network has a key role to play in supporting the region’s economy and holding more responsibility here in the West Midlands will help make sure that new investment is best targeted to create growth and jobs.

“It would also help ensure the local rail network fully connects and feeds into the forthcoming high speed rail line, thereby maximising the significant economic benefits offered by HS2.”

The councils argue that transferring more responsibility for the franchise from the Department for Transport would enable the West Midlands to use its local knowledge to lay down minimum standards of service, including punctuality and reliability and have the power to hold the train operator to account.

Devolution could also provide an opportunity to set fares locally, offering fairer pricing for passengers, while locally managed stations could mean improved passenger information, better security and staffing and upgraded facilities such as more cycle parking.

They say the move could also mean more frequent trains and better integration with bus and tram services while easing the way for a network-wide smartcard that can be used on all modes of public transport.

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