Responding to Network Rails’ announcement it created the new role of Managing Director, Northern Portfolio but has not adopted the Northern Route approach recommended by Transport for the North and Rail North, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee Cllr Keith Wakefield today said:
“With the successes of Rail North and formation of Transport for the North, both made possible by transport authorities and City Regions across the north working together, it is disappointing that Network Rail has missed an opportunity to build upon this devolutionary agenda.
“Taking a Northern Route approach would have ensured that Network Rails objectives could be better aligned with Transport for the North’s mandate to manage and enhance the north of England’s railways brief.
“However, I do welcome the fact that by creating the new role of Northern Portfolio Managing Director, Network Rail is providing a focus for its investments in the North. This is urgent work and I would like to see someone appointed on an interim basis as soon as possible to lead it while the recruitment process is taking place.
“We would then be in a position to start identifying the work and much-needed investment required.”
Network Rail described the creation of the Managing Director, Northern Portfolio role as ‘an important step forward in ensuring the development of a close and effective working relationship between the national provider and both Transport for the North and Rail North’.
The new Managing Director will be responsible for sponsoring all of Network Rail’s projects in the North, bringing together passengers’, train operators’ and regional bodies’ needs. They will oversee investment and upgrades to the north’s railways but will not be involved in the day-to-day operation.
Despite TfN and Rail North advocating a greater focus from Network Rail on the North's priorities and investments and the recent Shaw Review’s recommendation of a Northern Route as a way of providing focus.
Network Rail said today that the creation of a Northern route would mean a significant upheaval to rail performance at a critical time and create challenges for the organisation in operational delivery.
Tobyn Hughes, North East Combined Authority’s Managing Director of Transport who leads on rail for the Urban Transport Group, said: “Today’s news represents progress in better aligning Network Rail with the realities of a devolving rail network. Devolution of powers over rail networks in Merseyside, Scotland and London has, over time, brought with it greater investment, higher passenger satisfaction and better performance. Rail services in the North are now also benefiting from much greater local control, with rail services in the West Midlands to follow.
“However, the full benefits of devolution will only come when the development of rail infrastructure is more closely linked to the way in which devolved rail services are planned and managed. At present all too often Network Rail projects which are vital to devolved authorities wider transport strategies are subject to drift and rising costs as senior Network Rail staff attention is focused elsewhere. If the Government’s ambitions for accelerating growth in the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and elsewhere are to be achieved then this can’t continue.
“Today’s news on the North is a step in the right direction, although as ever it will be outcomes that count. For us that means a more responsive Network Rail that understands our priorities and which delivers on agreed schemes on time and on budget.”