Public rail ownership is on the horizon

Lancaster Railway Station. Stock Picture.
Lancaster Railway Station. Stock Picture.

A public transport masterplan for Lancashire and the north of England could be the catalyst for bringing the railway network back under public ownership.

North Rail - which is made up of councils including Lancashire, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Cheshire plus 33 local authorities – had been poised to take over the rail franchise for the whole of the north of England by 2017, but a change of transport minister has resulted in a more long term plan.

County Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport said: “We have the most expensive transport system in Europe, and what we’ve got is often substandard.

“The public deserve better than that.”

A transport evaluation is currently underway in Lancaster - looking at trains, buses, roads, cycle paths and footways.

This is part of a county wide masterplan, which will then feed into a wider plan for the whole of the north.

Coun Fillis has been chosen as North Rail’s delegate responsible for Lancashire, Cumbria, Blackpool and Blackburn.

He said: “The first minister (Justine Greening) offered us a direct franchise opportunity, but they’re now asking us to look at this in greater depth for the future.

“There’s going to be major changes in the connectivity between Manchester and Yorkshire, and this is leading us to look at ourselves and our part in this. We believe that we should shape our buses and trains to become one system. We’re looking at the possibilities. It’s a patchy picture at the moment, but one of the tasks I’ve been given is to tie all this together.”

At a recent Lancaster City Council meeting, councillors called on the government to protect the West Coast Mainline at Hest Bank from flooding.

But County Coun Chris Coates said: “We need real investment in local railway services to bring them up to modern European standards, not just protecting short stretches from flooding.”

He added: “The sort of thing we want to see is the railways taken back into public ownership, electrification of all lines in the north west and a North West regional ‘Otter card’, like London’s Oyster card.”

Coun Fillis said that the individual masterplans would result in a major structural development “with which we can argue the case for the bigger picture”.

“We’re looking at how we run our buses,” he said.

“In the Lune Valley for example, the issue with double decker buses trying to navigate down country roads. Now we’re looking at 18 seaters.

“I personally believe, and I think the public are recognising this now, is that we can’t leave it to the private sector alone. We’re launching the masterplan on March 10 and the plan itself will be the start of the discussion of how we shape our transport system over the next 15 - 20 years.”

By Nick Lakin