Government devo deal could hand control of Merseyrail network to combined authority

New train at Headbolt Lane

Liverpool Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, has signed a deal with Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, that could give the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority more control of the region’s rail network.

The combined authority said the “trailblazer rail devolution deal” could be “transformational for rail passengers across Merseyside and Halton”.

It will open the door to talks that could lead to major improvements for passengers, with Mayor Rotheram pushing for greater powers to build a fully integrated, reliable and affordable service with transparent management.

The mayor signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Secretary of State during the official opening of the country’s newest train station in Kirkby, Headbolt Lane, yesterday (November 16).

Headbolt Lane is an £80m, fully accessible train station served by the first battery-powered passenger trains of their type in the country, cementing the city region’s place at the forefront of pioneering rail technology.

It marks another significant step in the delivery of Merseyrail for All, the mayor’s commitment to extend the local rail network.

The agreement has taken those plans one step futher by initiating the process of assessing the future of the region’s railways with Network Rail and the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT).

One option that the mayor has been vocal about exploring would consider the potential of better linking together the region’s existing network infrastructure with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s transport network.

Steve Rotheram said: “From the world’s first passenger railway powered by Stephenson’s Rocket to the ‘Dockers’ Umbrella’ (overhead railway), our region has been leading the transformation of Britain’s railways for centuries. It’s a legacy we’re proud to be continuing today with the opening of a brand new rail station served by the country’s first battery powered trains.

“This deal signifies not only a massive moment for our region – but the start of a new wave of devolution for the country. It puts us on track to open up the right conversations around how we can improve our rail network for the better and run it in the best interests of passengers.”

The region was the first area outside London to take control of its local rail network with the Merseyrail concession in 2003, which is now one of the best performing networks in the country and, earlier this year, launched its state-of-the-art £500m publicly-owned Class 777 trains into passenger service.

Despite the new fleet being under public ownership, the current structure means that Network Rail is the incumbent owner and operator of the region’s railway infrastructure, including tracks, stations, signals and points.

However, under the agreement, discussions could take place about how to better integrate infrastructure and regeneration opportunities between the rail industry and the combined authority, across the Merseyrail network and the region’s six local authorities, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens, and the Wirral.

The move would give the combined authority greater control over investments to create better station facilities, improve network performance and capacity and timetable enhancements.

Mark Harper said: “Today’s agreement demonstrates this government’s commitment to transforming public transport across the country and empowering elected leaders to make decisions based on the priorities of local people.

“This agreement follows over £1bn of funding committed to the city through our Network North plans and will kickstart transport improvements for people across the city, making journeys affordable and accessible for all.”