Northern and Lancashire business chiefs hope shake-up of railways will bring huge benefits for passengers
Northern and Lancashire business leaders have welcomed the Government's planned shake-up of Britain's railways.
They were speaking as plans were unveiled to to create a new body, Great British Railways, to effectively replace Network Rail and oversee track and train, alongside plans for new service contracts and flexible fares.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said the move was "a vindication of the compelling cases made by Northern business and civic leaders following the May 2018 timetable fiasco."
And in Lancashire, the Federation of Small Businesses said it hoped it would "kick-start much-needed change" to benefit Lancashire rail users and boost the economy.
Mr Murison said: "The franchise model was broken and not fit for purpose, and I have no doubt that the new body under the leadership of Sir Peter Hendy and Andrew Haines will deliver a more reliable, efficient Northern rail network.
“However, while the principle of local control set out today is the right one, without fully involving our Metro Mayors and civic leaders, there is a risk of northern services failing to meet what we need to drive our economic growth.
"Not going far enough on devolving control to Northern leaders, such as through Transport for the North, is a recipe for disaster and we will be making firm representations to government on the need to go further on devolving the North’s railways."
The Lancashire-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses National Chair Mike Cherry, said: “Britain’s railways needed a complete overhaul even before the COVID pandemic, but changes to current and long-term travel demand makes this long-awaited review all the more urgent.
"We hope it will kickstart much-needed change. Having a single oversight body, in the shape of Great British Railways, promises to ensure joined-up decision making, timetable planning and service delivery.
"As GBR will be built around tracks and infrastructure body Network Rail, it must be set up at the outset to do what’s best for passengers, rather than what is best for infrastructure. Passenger experience is key.”
Mr Cherry added: "We’re calling for a dynamic pricing system using the advantages of digital ticketing and technology to calibrate fares appropriately, fares which reflect continual investment in networks.
“Urgent action is therefore still needed. Having a fully-functioning, well-governed railway system is an essential pre-requisite to a small business-led economic recovery.”
Geoff Mason, policy manager at the North&Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: "The acceptance from Government that major improvements are needed to our rail network are welcome.
"Greater capacity, efficiency and ease of use are areas that everyone will be able to support.
"This is an opportunity for genuine change and it needs to be taken; this can’t be another top-down reorganisation with leadership but no real change for passengers."
Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s Interim Chief Executive, said: “The North saw first-hand the effects of a fragmented rail industry during the 2018 timetable crisis. The fact that Great British Railways will bring track and train together as the guiding mind and put the needs of passengers first is a giant leap forward and something we’ve championed.
“This is a major national moment and a shift in how the railway is run. But this national approach must not be a missed opportunity for further devolution, giving the North’s leaders greater oversight of services and infrastructure investment to deliver more integrated regional networks that work for all.
“The commitment to growing and investing in the railway over the next 30 years only emphasises the real need for the Government to publish the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands without delay, to give us much-needed certainty on delivery of major schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and the Transpennine Route Upgrade."
Meanwhile following reports that Network Rail is set to slash up to 9,000 jobs, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has warned of mass disruption to train operations unless an industry-wide approach is taken with a commitment to no compulsory redundancies.
Hitting back at the rumours, Mr Cortes said: “This is irresponsible scaremongering from Network Rail at a time when huge change in our industry has been announced by the Government."