West Yorkshire Combined Authority has approved plans that would see it take on administrative and back-office support for Rail North Limited.
Based in Leeds, Rail North represents 29 Local Transport Authorities in the north of England and has played a key role in shaping the Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises, which will start in April 2016, and which included a commitment from the Department for Transport to run the franchises from the north rather than Whitehall.
For Rail North, that commitment includes a small team to administer the franchise agreements and work with DfT through a new Partnership Agreement.
“Leeds is at the heart of Northern and TransPennine Express’s rail routes so it makes sense for Rail North, with its key role in shaping the North’s train services, to be located here,” said WYCA Chair, Cllr Peter Box.
"Through Rail North, councils across the North of England have already had an influential role in shaping the future of our train services and I look forward to taking forward the successful pan-northern partnership approach in working with Rail North’s permanent staff to deliver the high-quality franchises that passengers in the north expect and deserve.”
The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises announced in March 2015 represent a step-change not just in the level of services themselves, but also in the way that the franchises will be managed.
Instead of being managed remotely from Whitehall, both franchises with be managed by a small team based in Leeds under a formal Partnership between Rail North and the Department for Transport. There will be a Strategic Board, comprising senior officers from Rail North’s partner authorities and DfT, with an independent Chair. This Board will oversee a joint Rail North / DfT Management Team which will manage the franchises.
Among the minimum requirements for the new franchisees are new Sunday services, additional services in the morning and evening peak, train refurbishment and the withdrawal of all Pacer units by 2020.
Bids to run the two franchises are expected to be returned in mid-2015 and the preferred bidders announced by the end of the year, by which time Rail North is expected to be fully established.