Time for localism on urban rail


In response to the DfT’s consultation on the future of rail franchising (which closes today) pteg has set out new proposals for the decentralisation of responsibilities for city region rail networks.

‘Rail Cities in the 21st Century - the case for devolution’ calls for a radical approach to the future of local rail networks in the major urban areas outside London through transferring more powers, funding and decision-making from Whitehall to locally accountable PTEs.

In support of the vision document pteg today also published a research report by Atkins, ‘Enhancing the PTE Role on Rail in the City Regions’ which shows that devolving local rail powers has already transformed rail services in London, Merseyside and Scotland.

The report finds that:

‘the case for devolution for local and regional rail is a strong one’ and that devolution can ‘offer more hands on, proactive and committed management in accommodating patronage growth, improving performance and delivering a higher quality service’.

Where power is devolved, the report shows that:

  • rail is given greater priority, with more focus given to addressing local needs, maximising performance and delivering a better service for passengers;
  • investment rises to cater for, or foster, increased passenger demand, for example, through improved rolling stock or re-opening of lines;
  • performance and service levels improve, feeding into greater customer satisfaction; and
  • decision-making becomes more joined up across modes and policy objectives, including on capital investment, integrated fares and ticketing, and branding.

Chair of pteg, Neil Scales, said:

‘It’s time to end remote control from Whitehall and realise the full potential of urban rail for the city regions. As locally accountable strategic transport authorities we are well placed to give big city rail networks the priority they deserve as part of wider integrated transport networks for the city regions. The research we have published today clearly shows that when you devolve responsibilities for local rail, passengers get a better deal as a result. This is because local decision-makers know just how important local rail is to wider city economies and as a result devolution brings more focus on improving performance, investment in services and rolling stock, and on ensuring local rail is fully integrated with the wider public transport network.’

‘The best format for devolution will depend on local circumstances and aspirations but could range from full vertical integration of track and trains for self-contained networks like Merseyrail, to a much greater role in specification and responsibility for local rail services elsewhere in our areas. Stations too are an area where we think we could raise standards through applying our wider experience in delivering and managing first rate public transport interchanges in a cost effective way.’

Ian Brown, Managing Director of London Rail, said:

‘London Overground has been a real success story, demonstrating that more local control can deliver real benefits for passengers and stimulate investment. Our experiences of rail devolution in London show what can be done and I am pleased to be able to support pteg and their vision for rail in the city regions. Collectively we need government to unlock the potential for more local control and to deliver the railways all of our cities need.’


For more, contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445 / 0781 804 1485


1. pteg’s response to the DfT consultation on Reforming Rail Franchising is available to download below. 

2. pteg’s vision for rail, Rail Cities in the 21st Century – The Case for Devolution is available to download below.

3. Enhancing the PTE Role on Rail in the City Regions, was produced for pteg by Atkins and is available to download below.

4. Since their inception, PTEs have worked hard to develop their heavy rail networks, through investing in new lines, routes, stations and trains, as well as in improvements to existing services. PTEs have, for example, opened or re-opened more than 75 stations on the heavy rail network and invested in many more. These networks are now among the busiest in the country with rail passenger journeys in PTE areas up 158 per cent between 1995-96 and 2007-08.