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Councils must keep subsidising rail services after DfT decision

A council thought to be one of the only in the country to have to contribute funds towards its rail services is going to have to keep paying for even longer because of a Department for Transport decision.

Cannock Chase Council pays £10,000 a year towards the running of additional ‘incremental’ services on the Chase Line through Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley. Staffordshire County Council contributes a further £39,000, and the passenger transport body Centro pays £146,000.

The DfT was expected to take over the funding of those services in March 2015 as part of the £30m electrification of the line and franchise changes. But there is “no prospect” of that happening before spring 2016, the public authorities have now been told.

Cannock council leader Cllr George Adamson told the local Express & Star newspaper: “It's a blow. This is money that could usefully have been spent elsewhere. But we've got to keep the service running, it's one of the most well-used in the country.”

The subsidy, described as “appropriate and value for money and recommended” in council papers, is likely to be given the go-ahead at a meeting of its Cabinet this week.

The ‘incremental’ services being funded comprise the Monday to Saturday evening extensions north of Hednesford to Rugeley and enhanced Saturday services, which when combined with the DfT-funded service, provide a half-hourly frequency.

Council papers say: “The funding for these services was originally planned to be for three years and then hopefully absorbed by the DfT in a future franchise, in accordance with the government funding statement for local and regional rail services. However, the DfT have now made it clear to Centro that it and the Staffordshire councils will therefore need to fund a fifth and part of a sixth year to coincide with the extension of the existing West Midlands franchise to March 2016.”

Almost 700,000 journeys a year are made on the Chase Line, which has seen phenomenal growth in recent years.

Electrification and associated improvements will allow faster journeys – 70mph instead of 45-50mph. The project is underway, with 24 bridges having to be rebuilt or modified to accommodate the overhead line equipment. Completion is expected in 2017.

The incremental services’ estimated benefit-cost ratio of 1.63:1 is expected to rise to 3:1 once the electrification and line-speed upgrades are complete.

A DfT spokesperson said: “There has never been an agreement for DfT to take over the funding of the additional services on the Chase Line. These services have always been funded by Centro, Staffordshire County Council and Cannock Chase Council, and this will continue until April 2016.

“Later this year, we will begin negotiations for a new franchise agreement with London Midland. Centro have submitted a business case for DfT to fund the additional Chase Line services from April 2016 as part of the new franchise, and we will consider this carefully as part of the negotiations.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

(Image shows a London Midland Class 170, which operates services on the non-electrified Chase Line. Photo by Elliott Brown, used here under a Creative Commons licence.)


Notts Railman   10/11/2014 at 22:42

"A council thought to be the only one in the country ..."; but the article then lists TWO councils which contribute towards the costs of this train service. Don't Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire County Councils contribute towards the costs of the Robin Hood line train service between Nottingham and Worksop? "24 brides having to be rebuilt or modified" is intriguing! A sloppy piece of journalism from a technical journal which should do better.

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