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Full steam ahead for West Midlands rail grab

Full steam ahead for West Midlands rail grab

🕔13.Jun 2013

railCouncil leaders are proceeding with plans to bring West Midlands rail services back under local control, but have warned that the viability of a £2 billion contract will depend on Department of Transport funding.

If the move goes ahead, the Integrated Transport Authority Centro will assume responsibility for overseeing all local rail services in Birmingham, the West Midlands and some adjoining shire counties. The network is currently handled by London Midland under a franchise agreement.

Leaders of the seven West Midlands councils meeting in Birmingham this week were told by Centro that the estimated operational cost of a rail contract would be £200 million a year plus additional unspecified fixed charges to be paid to Network Rail.

Predicted income from a West Midlands rail contract is estimated at £100 million – half of the running costs, leaving a £100 million shortfall.

A report by Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip makes it clear that rail devolution will only be possible if the councils can conclude a workable financial deal with the DfT.

Negotiating an acceptable agreement with the DfT which “both creates local funding opportunities and minimises local risk exposure will be essential” if the councils are to approve Centro becoming the devolved contracting authority, Mr Inskip added.

A formal submission for a West Midlands rail contract will be handed to the DfT later this year.

Routes covered include the Birmingham cross city line as well as services between Birmingham and Rugby, Coventry, Shrewsbury, Worcester, Redditch, Stourbridge and Cannock.

Devolution would deliver the following benefits, according to Centro:

  • Support economic growth by delivering more capacity and connectivity.
  • Deliver a better service for passengers, encouraging use and reducing carbon emissions.
  • Make the West Midlands rail network more accountable to local people.
  • Deliver a more efficient railway which is better value for the taxpayer.

The Government is urging councils to enter bids to run local rail services.

At the moment only two areas, London and Merseyside, have control over their local rail networks.

Following the collapse of the West Coast Franchise process in October 2012, the DfT commissioned the Brown review and published a revised franchise programme in March 2013.The new programme indicates that the current London Midland franchise will be renewed in June 2017.

Mr Inskip added: “We believe that having more power over rail services sitting here in the West Midlands can bring real benefits to passengers.

“As we have seen in Merseyside and London, rail devolution can lead to more investment, more reliable services and networks that better reflect the needs of local economies, helping to underpin growth and job creation.

“Given a similar funding package, we can improve services in the same way in the West Midlands. We will need a fair deal from national government on costs and risks to make devolution work for both passengers and the West Midlands economy”

Centro believes giving control to regional authorities will make rail services more responsive to local needs and passengers’ views.

The authority also argues that devolution offers the prospect of better integration with tram and bus, and ultimately for London-style, smart and simple ticketing across all parts of the public transport network.

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