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‘Full Northern devolution needed’ as more networks move towards local control

Greater rail devolution is needed to improve services, the Urban Transport Group has said in its latest policy paper, using Merseyrail, ScotRail and London Overground as examples where rail devolution “transformed” service quality.

It argued that devolved transport authorities “have a better understanding of the importance of rail services for local economies, are more responsive to local needs and opportunities, and can manage available resources more effectively”.

“For example, devolution can facilitate better integration with wider local public transport networks and lead to more effective use of underutilised resources, as exemplified by some highly successful light rail conversions,” the report added.

The group recommended completely devolving the Northern franchise, devolution of powers over the West Midlands rail network, greater integration of London’s local rail network with TfL, and ensuring that Network Rail maps onto existing rail devolution arrangements.

Dr Jon Lamonte, chair of the Urban Transport Group and CEO of Transport for Greater Manchester, said: “From the major expansion of Manchester Metrolink to the total overhaul of the Tyne and Wear Metro and from cycle superhighways to the roll out of smart ticketing, our urban transport networks are being transformed through the significant investment programmes that we are delivering.

“At the same time more devolution of transport responsibilities and powers to more focussed governance in the city regions is paying off, including through better performing and more responsive local rail networks. We now want to build on these foundations - and this report shows how.”

Following the announcement that Arriva would operate the Northern franchise, Alex Hynes, the managing director of Arriva Rail North, told RTM that creating a devolved Northern route is “critical”. TfL board papers published last week have also moved towards devolving suburban rail services in the capital by identifying four routes as potential targets for devolution.

Today’s report also said that HS2 should be accompanied by a wider upgrade of the rail network, including new east-west rail links and links to international high-speed rail.

It added that local, inter-regional and inter-city services need a long-term investment plan to support urban economies, including infrastructure and rolling stock upgrades and a rolling electrification programme.

Local transport funding ‘should be equal to national’

In addition, it argued that whilst funding for large-scale rail and road projects has enjoyed greater certainty recently due to five-year funding periods, investment programmes and the National Infrastructure Commission, local transport funding is less stable.

The report recommends ensuring that local transport funding, which has faced spending cuts and block grants being replaced by capital funding, is brought into line with national spending.

It also argues that local urban transport users want smart tickets that “look and feel like London’s Oyster Card”, but these are being held back in some areas by high prices and lack of promotion from bus operators.

Finally, the report recommends breaking down silos with a greater inter-agency approach. This should include closer partnerships between Network Rail and the city-regions on transport issues, and national strategic policies on freight and air pollution.

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