PM sets out plans to give the north more control of rail services

Boris Johnson has set out his intention to allow northern mayors and combined authorities to take more control over their services. 

The new plans could mean that local people will have more power over how their trains are run, including the frequency and fares, as well as allowing them to hold local providers to account.

The news came less than 48 hours after five regional mayors had joined forces to demand more local powers from the prime minister, at a summit organised by the National Infrastructure Commission.

“Today I am announcing my intention to give the railways of the north back to the people of the north," said the prime minister. "Back to the places where they were born. Back to Stockton and to Darlington. Back to Liverpool and Manchester,” he said, while also making it clear that the north’s railways must remain part of a national network.

“On local lines in metropolitan areas, we will give greater control over fares, service patterns, rolling stock and stations. And outside the combined authority areas, I want communities to take control too. That might be through county councils taking on similar roles, in their areas, for stations or branch lines. Or it might be by transferring local branch line and rural services to community rail partnerships, owned by local people. And as you have asked, we will give you far greater control over your budgets," Johnson said.

The prime minister said that many of the north’s best services, including Merseyrail, the Manchester Metrolink and the Nexus Tyne and Wear Metro, are already run by, or on behalf of, locally elected politicians. “They’re always going to care more about their trains and trams than someone in Whitehall,” he said.

The move to hand down more control, in partnership with the railways, is one of the recommendations from the Williams Rail Review, led by independent chair Keith Williams.

Influential think-tank IPPR North gave the PM’s announcement a cautious welcome. Senior research fellow Luke Raikes said: “If it goes ahead this would be a big and important change for the north’s creaking transport network. But it’s a promise that must be kept to all parts of the north, not just its cities. The prime minister must now follow through on this and the other promises he has made to the north, including on investments to sit alongside these powers. We need to go even further than today's promises too, so that the Northern Powerhouse can be truly led by the north.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The commitment of the prime minister to the Northern Powerhouse, five years on from the speech which launched it, is to be welcomed. We believe that integrated transport will enable growth, ensuring that we have more talent available to reach the jobs our businesses create.”

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