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The West Midlands rail network contributes significantly to the region's economic, social and environmental wellbeing. It provides access to employment and education, links businesses to suppliers and customers, provides access to retail and leisure facilities, and reduces congestion and contributes to a more sustainable, lower carbon economy. However, despite the correlation between rail and economic growth, local influence in rail services in the West Midlands has historically been low.
This is all set to change, as for the first time in a generation there is an opportunity to secure meaningful influence over local rail services. Over the last few years the Government has committed to putting local communities back in control of the decisions and services that affect their lives. For rail, this means transferring power and responsibility to the appropriate local level, so that where railways provide primarily local services, local communities and local authorities have a bigger say in how those services are run.
In response to this development, 14 local authorities from across the West Midlands have come together to form West Midlands Rail (WMR), a cohesive and proactive body representing the regional and local economic, transport and strategic objectives for the rail industry. WMR's aim is to translate the Government's agenda into the West Midlands by leading the transformation of rail services in the West Midlands to meet the needs of passengers, stakeholders and businesses.
Discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport have led to a proposition for rail devolution in the West Midlands which has allowed WMR to have a meaningful level of influence over the specification of the new West Midlands Franchise. This Franchise, currently operated by London Midland, operates 60% of all the rail services in the West Midlands region, and is due to be re-let in August 2017. The Government have also agreed that once the new Franchise has commenced in December 2017, WMR will be responsible for managing those services operating locally in the region. WMR believes this approach will deliver significant benefits in the longer-term.
WMR's interests extend beyond rail franchising. We believe that localism is much more than simply transferring powers from one tier of government to another. Rather, it is about translating those devolved responsibilities into meaningful actions that benefit local passengers, stakeholders and businesses. This means thinking about problems in a different way, and developing solutions to match.
To this end, we have published our aspiration for a regional rail network characterised by consistently high standards of customer service and service delivery regardless of the identity of the train operator. This is known as the Single Network Vision, and can be found here.
We are also pioneering a new approach to the management of railway stations. This involves working with Network Rail, who own the stations, and the train companies who manage them, to identify and secure funding to enable an agreed programme of station enhancements to be developed and delivered. Crucially, this approach tackles the twin obstacles to station improvement, namely the lack of coordination between the various parties responsible for station assets, and insufficient incentives to invest in significant station enhancements.
Finally, WMR is developing a rail investment strategy for the region. This covers a 30 year time period and is split into four time frames to enable us to have the best chance possible in attracting investment and influencing positive changes and developments to the regional rail network. The strategy will focus on outputs and evidence based priorities, and provide a timeline of requirements to meet the region's goals, supported by intervention options and case studies.
The West Midlands region is thriving, and rail is one of the reasons for this. Greater local control over the region's rail network will further stimulate economic growth, as local and national investment can be channelled into meeting local needs. At the same time, the rail franchises can be designed and managed to be responsive to the requirements of the communities they serve, bringing people and businesses across the region together. This will benefit the country as a whole, as a more effective railway supports economic growth, delivers a sustainable transport system, offers an attractive option for business and leisure travellers, and provides value for money for the tax payer and the fare payer.