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Rail North defends ‘no reply’ stance on DfT franchise consultations

Rail North has defended its position not to reply to the Department of Transport’s (DfT) consultations on the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises, after being quizzed by MPs on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

David Brown, director general of Merseytravel, who was representing Rail North at the session, said: “Rail North is not a formalised body in anyway and so therefore it has no locus to respond on behalf of its 30 members."

Martin Vickers, the Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, said he was "staggered" that Rail North had not replied, especially as its aim is to improve connectivity in the north and to other parts of the country.

However, Brown stated that Rail North had taken the view that the “local flavour” would come out better if all 30 local transport authorities, together with their partners in the private and public sector, responded – voicing their issues.

He added that the response for the Liverpool City Region had been circulated to other local authority members as a basis to highlight how they could put across “pan-Rail North issues” to the DfT.

Vickers pressed the Merseytravel representative, though, asking how Rail North reconciles the different views within local authorities, especially as the organisation is meant to discuss rail issues “as the voice of the north” with DfT.

In response, Brown said: “That’s why we’re trying to put in place formal governing structures that allow us to have proper decision making processes to be able to take that role.

“But on the basis of the consultation it is about getting the local views out and allowing individual local authorities to get those points out. Plus we are also conscious that we don’t want to put one response in on behalf of 30 local transport authorities when there will be specific local issues that they wish to air.”

Earlier this year, it was announced that a DfT / Rail North partnership will, working on behalf of the north of England authorities, help manage the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises at the point at which the new contracts come into force in February 2016.

Asked about how Rail North is dealing with concerns by local authorities and rail union RMT about the effectiveness of Rail North, Brown added that meetings have been held, in which the organisation has explained its role and why Rail North is “looking for an investment-led railway, about growth and about improved levels of service and rolling stock”.

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