Negotiations to give the West Midlands greater influence over its local rail network and secure improved services for passengers took a major step forward today.
A consortium of 14 metropolitan, shire and unitary authorities is set to launch a separate company called West Midlands Rail Ltd (WMR) which, in partnership with government, will oversee the management and specification of the local rail network from 2017.
The first meeting of the board of directors of the new company will take place tomorrow (Friday Dec 4) and follows the Department for Transport's (DfT) announcement today of a new contract for London Midland to carry on running local train services until October 2017.
This allows WMR and the DfT to continue working together on developing and introducing a new West Midlands franchise in 2017.
WMR believes that managing local services in partnership with government will give the West Midlands an opportunity to help develop the rail network in a way that underpins economic growth, job creation and carbon reduction while delivering significant benefits for the travelling public.
Cllr Mark Winnington, chair of WMR and Staffordshire County Council's cabinet member for economy, environment and transport, said: "We believe that WMR's input and shared responsibility for the next franchise will be good for passengers, good for the economy and good for taxpayers.
"WMR can better understand what the region needs from its railway and make sure services focus on the real needs of passengers and business. It will also make the train operator more accountable at a local level.
"This forthcoming franchise is very much part of the journey towards full devolution of rail services across the West Midlands."
In the separate London Midland contract announced today passengers will see a number of improvements during the next 18 months in the run up to the next franchise.
These include extra week day evening services from London to Trent Valley, earlier Sunday services into Birmingham city centre from Rugby and Lichfield and new Sunday services from Longbridge, Dorridge and Whitlocks End.
Cllr Winnington added: "I'm pleased that this new London Midland contract will bring some improvements for passengers over the coming months. In the meantime we will continue working with the DfT on the new West Midlands franchise for 2017."