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Rail in the north ‘should be fully devolved by 2025’

Rail franchises in the north of England should be completely devolved by the time the current franchises expire in 2023-25, the director of Rail North has said just a few days after similar calls from the Urban Transport Group.

David Hoggarth said that gaining complete control over the franchises would allow Rail North and Transport for the North (TfN) to choose the best contractors to take advantage of planned upgrades to the network.

The TransPennine Upgrade Programme, due to deliver electrification and faster journey times to the region, was ‘paused’ after going over budget and schedule. It has now started again, but its completion is delayed until the end of 2022.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been in this position before, previously we’ve been running down to government and seeking one-off grants and funds, whereas now we can start planning ahead and putting the north in the driving seat,” Hoggarth said in an interview with TfN.

He also revealed that Rail North and the TfN Partnership Board have now agreed a process for integration and “the principles around that”.

Rail North members who are not TfN members, such as East Midlands local authority representatives, will be associate members, he said, meaning they can still vote on rail matters.

RTM first revealed that Rail North and Transport for the North were considering a merger last year.

“Aside from that, we’ve got two fantastic, transformational franchises which we’ve really helped to shape and influence, particularly in terms of the amount of investment that’s been promised: 500 extra carriages, 2,000 extra services per week, many more services on Sundays, these are transformational uplifts over the next few years,” Hoggarth continued.

“We want to make that work really well by managing it properly and holding the train companies to account, making sure they deliver what they’ve said they will, improvements in performance and passenger benefits.”

Alex Hynes, managing director of Arriva Rail North, also recently echoed Hoggarth’s calls for devolution. In an interview with RTM, the TOC boss said it was “critical” that Network Rail moves forward quickly with the establishment of a new devolved Northern Route.

Expanding on this, Hoggarth said Rail North wants “to get even more out of this” by capitalising on infrastructure investment.

“For example, many of the new trains are capable of 125mph. Much of the track they currently run on is suitable for 90mph at the most, but if we can improve the line speed we can get more out of the rolling stock and we can make savings in how that’s delivered,” he added.

“One of the benefits of the Rail North devolution agreement is that we get to keep those savings to reinvest in further improvements for passengers, so we want to go even further than is set out in the franchises.

“We are also already starting work on the next round of franchises. The current franchises run to 2023-25 and our ambition is to have full devolution at that point and for the north to be solely responsible for specifying those new franchises. So we’re looking at what rail transport will look like at that point: we’ll have an upgraded TransPennine route, what services do we want to buy to use that infrastructure to its best advantage?”

(Image c. Civity)

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Andrew Gwilt   20/09/2016 at 10:22

Along with new trains such as CAF's Class 195's, Class 331's and Class 397's that all are to be built and delivered throughout next year and into 2018 and 2019 will benefit much faster journey times and to replace the oldest rolling stocks that have been operating across the North of England for over 30-40 years.

PB   20/09/2016 at 11:09

“For example, many of the new trains are capable of 12mph". I look forward to this with barely contained excitement.

Nick   20/09/2016 at 13:45

If we were talking about 'Roads for the North' we'd be busy building them by now, not waffling on about this and that organisation to look into/propose xyz and sit on it for ten years, whilst the cost quadruples and we spend ten times as much maintaining/renewing antiquated infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose.

Neil Palmer   20/09/2016 at 15:36

PB - can human's survive travelling at such high speeds?

David   21/09/2016 at 11:10

Andrew, none of the rolling stock in the north of England is 40 years old, let alone 35 years. However, it is indeed time to call time on the Pacers.

Andrew Gwilt   21/09/2016 at 12:32

Indeed David. I think that the new trains will replace the Pacers as they are heading into the scrapyard to be scrapped.

David   21/09/2016 at 18:08

It'll keep Booths of Rotherham busy for a while too. A win-win situation!

Chris M   22/09/2016 at 01:20

Andrew, that would be very risky - the normal procedure is to receive the new trains, then train the drivers and engineers on them while testing them. Next they need to start introducing the new trains into daily service and build up a certain amount of fault-free running. Only once all that has happened should thoughts turn to sending any of the old trains to the scrapyard.

Andrew Gwilt   22/09/2016 at 08:27

I do hear you got a point there Chris.

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