Rail service ‘not fit for purpose’

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Yorkshire train services are not meeting the region’s needs and need a radical transformation, a top transport official has admitted.

The man in charge of rail franchises was defending a consultation on the future of rail services in the region which has been criticised by transport campaigners for lacking ambition.

Peter Wilkinson, rail franchising director at the Department for Transport, said the Government was asking “honest questions” about the future of rail services in the North and how the costs of improvements can be met.

The Government will shortly begin the competition for private companies to run the transpennine and northern rail franchises from 2016 which cover the bulk of services in Yorkshire.

A consultation on the design of those services launched in June suggested there may need to be “trade offs” such as cutting lightly used services to pay for better trains.

Rail campaigners have criticised the Government’s approach and contrasted it with the significant investment put into public transport in the South East.

Mr Wilkinson said the competition was aimed at transforming the quality of rail services in the North.

“I don’t believe that they are fit for purpose given the amount of growth we have now seen in rail usage in the North over the last 20 years,” he said.

“What we need is a rail service that is fit for purpose and capable of withstanding what will inevitably be continuation in that growth.

“To achieve that we’ve got some challenges and part of the challenge is how to fund investment in the infrastructure and the rolling stock to provide capacity for that growth and so we’ve asked some very honest questions.”

Mr Wilkinson said he wanted transpennine services to become “a proper intercity service for the North of England”.

He also offered his support to moves to shift more of the power over how local train services are run from Whitehall to the region.

A group of councils, known as Rail North, have been pressing to have a much bigger say in the transpennine and northern rail franchises arguing they better understand the needs of the local economy and communities and can link rail to other public transport.

Mr Wilkinson said: “Railways serving the North of England should not be designed by people based in a building in central London.

“The direction of travel is to move to a world where the specification of railway services and ultimately the oversight of those services from a governance point of view is undertaken in the regions in which those services operate and serving those markets.”

Mr Wilkinson said he was particularly interested in seeing people in rural areas having a say in rail services and in perhaps playing a part in operating them.

Rail operator Grand Central has been given a 10 year extension on its contract to run rail services between Yorkshire and London.

The company does not hold a rail franchise but is one of a number of “open access operators” who apply for the right to run particular services not already covered by other companies.

Grand Central managing director Richard McClean said: “For many of the towns on our routes we operate the only direct service to London, so this extension is a big coup for those communities and local businesses as well, who can continue to make connections to the capital.”