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Most passenger rail services operating in the United Kingdom are operated as franchises let by central government. Private train operators periodically bid to operate the various franchises in a process overseen by the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT specify the franchise outputs, and scrutinise the successful operator's delivery of its commitments.
'Rail devolution' passes control for the specification, management, and in some cases the procurement of certain rail franchises to local bodies. This model has been successfully used for some time elsewhere in the UK in Scotland, Wales, on Merseyside and in London.
West Midlands Rail (WMR) proposes to create a devolved local rail network for the West Midlands.
West Midlands Rail, representing the region's metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities, plans to gain greater influence and control over local rail services from 2017, leading to the creation of a fully devolved West Midlands Rail Contract. WMR is a partnership of fourteen Metropolitan District, Shire and Unitary local transport authorities that cover the proposed map of the devolved rail services.
Participating authorities are:
The link between rail and economic growth is well recognised. WMR will bring the levers that control the local rail services in the region under local control, and will offer the opportunity to maximise economic benefits for the region.
Ongoing discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport have led to a proposition for rail devolution in the West Midlands which will allow WMR to have a meaningful level of influence over the specification of the new franchise, and to lead with the management of the franchise in relation to West Midlands local services. Discussions are ongoing with DfT officials to agree the details of the arrangements.
WMR believes this approach will deliver significant benefits in the longer-term, with an opportunity to realise many of the benefits from 2017.
Our proposal supports the Government's devolution agenda, and the DfT has recognised that increasing local control of rail services could deliver improved outcomes for the economy, local passengers, stakeholders and taxpayers. The DfT is therefore seeking a formal proposal from WMR partner authorities to devolve responsibility for the local rail network.
WMR believes that devolution will delivery many benefits to the region and local rail passengers. Having a targeted, locally accountable contract with proper incentives on the operator will enable WMR to specify and manage rail services more effectively than the current national arrangements.
Devolution of local rail services is already a reality in Greater London, on Merseyside, in Scotland and in Wales and is delivering benefits such as these.
WMR is working alongside the DfT to specify and procure the new West Midlands franchise. The franchise competition is now underway and is due to commence in October 2017.
WMR is working with government to develop plans for a fully devolved rail franchise for the region in the future.