A timetable for new investment in North East England’s local trains and railway stations has been discussed by council leaders as devolution of the region’s railways took an important step forward.
A new rail management board which met for the first time yesterday sees local councillors hold train company bosses to account directly for the first time ever as a result of proposals from the North of England to improve rail services when the new Northern franchise was let this year.
The deal saw the region’s two combined authorities work together to secure a commitment from Government and the new franchisee Arriva to replace the notorious Pacer trains and invest to improve waiting facilities for passengers.
They also now directly monitor day-to-day performance and work with Northern to market rail travel, introduce more frequent services and develop plans for new stations and routes.
Cllr Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council and lead member for transport at the North East Combined Authority, said: “This marks a turning point for local rail as for the first time we can hold a franchise to account directly for the services they provide, here in our region.
“Rail devolution is about delivering real benefits for passengers through replacing the notorious Pacer trains, introducing more frequent services and making stations better places.
“We have secured these commitments from Government and the franchisee and through the new North East Rail Management Board we will make sure they are delivered.”
Cllr Bill Dixon, Chair of the Tees Valley Combined Authority Transport Committee and Leader of Darlington Borough Council said: “For too long passengers across the North have struggled with inadequate services and lack of investment.
“The Tees Valley Combined Authority now has an exciting opportunity to make a real difference in improving rail services across the region. We look forward to working in close partnership with the franchise operator in a way that has not been possible previously in order to ensure they deliver the improvements in services and facilities that are much needed for rail travellers in Tees Valley”.
The North East Rail Management Board will shape an ambitious plan to transform local rail in the North East promised by Northern including:
• Replacement of the antiquated Pacer train fleet by 2020 at the latest.
• Free wifi with on-demand entertainment and real-time information on all trains by 2020.
• The roll-out of Pop smart ticketing to local trains.
• New high-quality Northern Connect longer-distance trains from Carlisle through Newcastle to Middlesbrough from December 2017 with air conditioning, tables, power sockets/USB chargers, and luggage space.
• A new hourly service between Bishop Auckland and Darlington.
• More trains on Sundays across the region
• A share of £38 million investment in Northern-managed stations across the whole franchise.
Stations are to benefit from investment to install new shelters, seating and ticket machines as well as improved access.
The North East Rail Management Board provides oversight for all Northern train services in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and the Tees Valley, including those running as far as Carlisle in Cumbria, and from Middlesbrough to Whitby in North Yorkshire.
It was established as part of a unique agreement between Government’s Department for Transport and local authorities across the north, working together through the Rail North Partnership to oversee service improvements across the Northern and TransPennine franchises, rather than decisions being taken entirely in Whitehall.
As well as the North East Combined Authority and Tees Valley Combined Authority, the Board includes representatives from Cumbria County Council and North Yorkshire County Council.