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Passenger ‘first’ plan backed by the North’s leaders

A RAFT of measures to give the North of England greater scrutiny of the region’s railways have been backed by political and business leaders.

Transport for the North’s Board have approved short-term changes to the workings of the Rail North Partnership – established to transform and manage the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises with the Department for Transport.

It follows a turbulent year since the May 2018 timetable change that saw passengers faced with widespread disruption, cancellations and delays.

The action plan, based on recommendations of the recently-published Blake Jones Review will see the creation of a ‘Passenger Promise’ with the train companies as well as a greater link with passenger groups. It will also see new information protocols to ensure maximum transparency to leaders and greater political oversight of the decisions being made by the industry.

Speaking following the meeting in Leeds, Cllr Judith Blake, who co-authored the Review, said: “The backing of Northern leaders both for the Blake Jones Review’s findings and Transport for the North’s action plan demonstrate our collective determination to improve the voice of passengers and accountability over the rail services which are essential to our communities and economy. Despite the return of some stability on our rail network, reliability, overcrowding and punctuality remain significant issues.

“While this action plan will deliver improvements within the current arrangements, last year’s disruption highlighted the need for more fundamental reforms to deepen rail devolution in the North and better integrate the operation of track and train and I hope those considerations will be addressed in the Williams Review.”

Through Transport for the North, civic and business leaders united last year to hold the industry to account and scrutinise decisions at time of crisis. This continued in the run-up to subsequent timetable changes in December 2018 and May 2019, which helped restore reliability to services and prevent further damage to a fragile system.

But longer-term change to the relationships is needed, with leaders making clear that the national Williams Review of the railways should consider how further devolution of responsibilities to the North will fit within a restructuring of the industry.

Barry White, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, said: “Last year we saw the extent of what can happen when things go wrong on the railways, with significant disruption. Our members have since been tirelessly working to scrutinise complex decisions about both infrastructure and train services. That’s all been done with the interests of passengers at heart, a principle Cllr Blake and Andrew Jones put at the core of their Review.

“But it has often been frustrating for our political leaders, at times not having the full picture to make informed decisions or being involved too late in the process by the industry.

“This new raft of measures will go some way to improving that, giving the North’s passengers and leaders – who bring that essential local knowledge – a louder voice.

“But it’s stepping stone to more fundamental changes. The Williams Review must consider a prominent place for the North as part of devolution, in particular consideration of where and how decisions are made.”

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