Government pledges better rail deal for North

Patrick McLoughlin
Patrick McLoughlin

The Transport Secretary has pledged new trains and carriages for commuter rail routes across Yorkshire as part of a landmark deal to devolve control of local rail networks to the North.

Patrick McLoughlin told the Yorkshire Post he wants to see “more and better rolling stock” on Northern Rail services as part of the franchise’s next 15-year contract, due to begin in 2016.

Last week Mr McLoughlin met with council leaders from across the North of England to thrash out a deal that will see local authorities sit alongside the Department for Transport (DfT) when letting and managing the next Northern and trans-Pennine contracts, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the disastrous deal agreed by Whitehall officials last time round.

In 2004, the DfT handed the current Northern contract to a joint venture by Dutch state-owned rail body Abellio and Serco, the outsourcing giant, without securing any commitment from the firms to invest in new or extra trains and carriages. Passenger use has since increased by 40 per cent, leaving commuters across the North struggling with some of the oldest and most overcrowded trains in the country.

“What I hope this does is give a voice to local people – making it a bit more accountable to local politicians,” Mr McLoughlin said.

“Our connections in that part of the UK are not as good as they should be.

“We are investing a lot of money in there and it’s about making sure we get best use out of it. I want to see some more rolling stock, and I want to see better rolling stock than what Northern trains have got at the moment.”

Rail North, the lobbying group set up by councils across the North, had originally requested total control over the next contracts – but has been told by Mr McLoughlin it will have to settle for working jointly with the DfT.

“The partnership approach can, and I believe will, work,” the Transport Secretary said.

“What the Northern authorities came forward with was a massive plan that was very very bold. I looked at it and said – can we go as quickly as that? I would much rather roll it out in partnership. They were very content with that.”

The competition to run the Northern and trans-Pennine routes from February 2016 is due to get underway next year.

Coun James Lewis, chair of West Yorkshire transport authority Metro, said new and improved trains and carriages will be a key part of the next deal. “Additional rolling stock will be vital if we are to support an economy where more and more people travel by train,” he said.