Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Plans to Devolve Region's Railways Could Hit Buffers

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Plans to Devolve Region's Railways Could Hit Buffers

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor

PLANS for the North to take control of rail services could be blocked by Ministers. The setback is just the latest sign that the Government is reluctant to devolve power to the region.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes is seeking an urgent meeting with Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin after it emerged a Government decision on the proposals has been delayed.

Authorities in the North East are joining forces with those in Yorkshire, Manchester and Merseryside to take control of franchise arrangements for Northern Rail and First TransPennine Express.

The aim is to create a better service by setting minimum standards for train operating companies based around the needs of the region, with improved information for passengers and a bigger focus on bus, tram, cycle, car and walking routes with stations.

Ministers were expected to give the green light to the new arrangements, known as Rail North, by Christmas - but the decision has now been put on hold, with no announcement due before 2014.

Transport department officials are sceptical about whether the north of England can handle the franchise process, according to reports.

The delay is the latest in a series of blows to the region's hopes of winning more power over its own affairs.

In October, Mr McLoughlin attacked North East councils over their plans to take over bus services, which are bitterly opposed by bus operators.

Speaking to The Journal, the Transport Secretary urged councils to "work with the bus operators" instead of fighting them.

And earlier this month, the Department for Communities and Local Government cast doubt on plans to create a combined local authority for Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. …

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