In a move first revealed by LBN in 2021, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has signed an agreement that could lead to him taking full control of the Merseyrail network from Network Rail. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham has signed an agreement with the Government that could see him take full control of the Merseyrail network.
On Thursday Transport Secretary Mark Harper visited the new £80m Headbolt Lane station at Kirkby, funded by the Combined Authority. He signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) over control of the network.
In what would be a significant expansion of the city region’s devolution deal, first revealed by LBN in 2021, the Combined Authority (CA) would take over control of the Merseyrail network from Network Rail. This would include all the track, signalling and stations.
It would also give Mr Rotheram and the CA control over significant areas of land. This would offer huge potential for new regeneration projects. These could include new commercial developments and an acceleration of the CA’s housebuilding ambitions.
LBN reported in August 2021 that Mr Rotheram was in discussions with the DoT over the move. It was hoped the MoU would be signed in 2022 but unrest in the Conservative Party including a leadership election made it difficult.
This agreement will now open the door to further talks between Mr Rotheram and Whitehall about making the transition.
If a deal is finally given the nod it still would not give Mr Rotheram day-to-day operational control of Merseyrail services. That will remain the responsibility of current franchise holder Merseyrail Electrics. Its 25-year agreement expires in 2028.
As part of his manifesto commitment, Mr Rotheram will explore options for the running of the network post-2028. That could include a publicly-owned operator. It is hoped a decision will be made before the end of the Mayor’s current term in 2024.
In January this year, the first of a new 52-strong fleet of Class 777 trains began carrying passengers on the network. The CA paid £500m for the trains, made by Swiss manufacturer Stadler.
Taking control of the Merseyrail network is part of Mr Rotheram’s wider ambition to create a fully-integrated London-style public transport system in the city region. He is also pushing to reverse the 1980s deregulation of the bus network.
He said today: “Communities across the country are being held back by a rail system that’s too complex, too disjointed and too expensive. Today, we’re taking a big step towards tidying that mess.
“This deal is a massive moment for our area – and signals a new wave of devolution for the country.”