Proposals to give the West Midlands greater control over its local rail services are progressing, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told political leaders today (March 2).
Mr McLoughlin, who met representatives from a consortium of 14 metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities during a visit to Wolverhampton said good progress was being made towards putting more responsibility for local rail services in local hands.
The consortium, known as West Midlands Rail (WMR), will work with the Department for Transport on the development and introduction of a new rail franchise for the region in 2017.
The next stage is to agree the basis for collaborative working which outlines the roles and responsibilities of both the DfT and WMR going forward. Work on this will begin straight away.
The Secretary of State's visit follows a proposition for rail devolution submitted by WMR last autumn after the DfT asked English regions for their thoughts on having a greater role in the commissioning and management of local rail services.
Mr McLoughlin said: "£38bn is being invested in our rail network as part of the government's long term economic plan to generate jobs and growth.
"Giving local areas a greater say over how their train services are run can help drive the improvements to our railways that passengers want. I am pleased that good progress is being made with the WMR consortium to do this in the West Midlands."
WMR believes supporting the Department to manage the local services of the next franchise offers a major opportunity to develop the local rail network in a way that underpins economic growth and jobs and delivers significant benefits for passengers.
Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council and chair of WMR, said the Secretary of State's support for the region's on-going work with the DfT in developing the new franchise was welcomed.
"Not only does this help put us on the road towards better rail services, it endorses the way West Midland councils are working together in pursuit of a common cause," Cllr Lawrence said.
"Holding more responsibility locally can help ensure future development of the network is best targeted for economic growth and jobs. This includes developing the network in a way that can secure the maximum economic benefits possible from HS2.
"That's why the West Midlands authorities have come together on this and are united in their support for a greater role in the way local train services are specified and managed."
Cllr Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council's cabinet member for economy, environment and transport and vice chairman of WMR, added: "Including local people and knowledge in the management of the region's network can bring a better understanding of what passengers and businesses really need.
"We are therefore pleased that the Government is keen to continue working with the West Midlands towards full devolution."
Only two areas of the UK presently have locally managed rail networks - Merseyside and London. Both have been highly successful in terms of passenger satisfaction, passenger growth and punctuality.
PICTURE CAPTION: Cllr Roger Lawrence, left, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP, and Cllr Mark Winnington at the Wolverhampton meeting.
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Notes to Editors:
1. West Midlands Rail includes Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council, Dudley MBC, Herefordshire Council, Northamptonshire County Council, Sandwell MBC, Shropshire Council, Solihull MBC, Staffordshire County Council, Telford and Wrekin Council, Walsall MBC, Warwickshire County Council, Wolverhampton City Council and Worcestershire County Council.
2. West Midlands Rail would be the public body responsible for overseeing local rail services under a devolved system.