Watchdog 'worry' on council-run rail lines
A passenger campaign group has said it is "very worried" about proposals which could see more control over railways passed down to local authorities.
Devon County Council's cabinet will next week examine its preferred options on a Government consultation of devolution of the train network. But Chris Irwin, chairman of passenger group Travelwatch South West, said he had grave concerns over several aspects of the proposal.
He said: "In principle it's a great idea, but in practice I'm very worried about it."
Cornwall Council has already indicated it is broadly interested in the ability to control certain aspects of the train , which could include timetabling, setting fares, deciding where investment should be made and, potentially, deciding to reopen stations that are currently closed. The consultation is part of a wider overhaul planned for the country's rail network, after fares were found to be 30 per cent too high compared to elsewhere in Europe. It is hoped decentralisation would help improve value for money.
But Mr Irwin questioned whether funding would still be available to renew equipment and infrastructure, and said: "In this climate of frozen council tax and so on, the answer to that is probably 'no'."
He also raised concerns over what would happen when a passenger crossed local authority boundaries, if it was also passing from one operator to another. And he said: "Local authorities have been slimmed down over the past few years. Have they still got the competence within them to manage these services?"
He said Devon and Cornwall were possible exceptions that could have the expertise, but said: "Somerset County Council is one example where transport expertise has been denuded."
In Devon, the council has previously voiced hopes that devolution could provide an opportunity to progress its vision of a Devon metro transport system which would involve bringing all rail services in the county together under a single brand. It would involve a new service from Okehampton to Exeter and the reopening of the line from Plymouth and Bere Alston to Tavistock.
On Wednesday, the cabinet will consider a range of options, which include local authorities being able to take control of specific areas under a single franchise awarded to one operator. It would allow the council to invest its own to supplement improvements to certain aspects of the service.
Council officers have said the idea is "workable", but warned that it would rely on a good budget settlement from Government, and that future growth of the network should not sap council coffers.
Another "workable" option is that "micro-franchises" could be tendered for particular areas within the main franchise. But officers have warned that interlinking lines benefit passengers, and so the option was unlikely to improve the situation in Devon.
The Government consultation is part of a far-reaching overhaul of the service, designed to make efficiency across the network.
To my mind all these attempts to bring a degree of government (in the broad sense of the word) control of railways is just more interference and meddling by people who simply don't have a clue what they are doing.
Free railway companies from the controls that are currently on them (franchising, leasing arrangements, government decreed fares etc) and they will soon fill the need locally. Businesses like to expand, in the current and permanent no-growth state we find ourselves in railways will be one of the few businesses that WILL be able to expand, along with organic farming, crafts, timber and railway/tramway equipment construction. The market needs to be allowed to operate. The New S&D, forward-looking as always, wants to be the prime example of this new type of business - sustainable, community owned and operated, innovative and inspirational.
Too many people still think its the 1980s, and it's time to put to one side tiny schemes to reopen stations or upgrade routes - nothing less than a wholesale construction of thousands of miles of new railways and tramways will enable us to switch from the Oil Age to the Post Oil Age without huge upheavals.
The most important part of the above article is the (rather obvious!) need to reinstate the Okehampton-Tavistock-Bere Alston line, the biggest no-brainer of all!