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Greater control over rail links for city regions – ICE

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has urged policy makers to give city regions greater influence over national rail and road networks. 

Within its ‘Transport for Growth: Unlocking the Potential in City Regions’ report, the professional association  called for “an accelerated process” of power transfer away from central government to city regions, guided by the needs, ambition and capacity of each area. 

ICE argues that identifying the right geographical areas and the appropriate powers to be exercised within them is critical to achieving the transport outcomes that travellers actually care about – connectivity, convenience, reliability and affordability – and which economies need to support sustainable growth. 

With regards to rail, the organisation stated that city regions could assume greater powers over the local rail network, as is already done on Merseyside (Merseyrail), increasingly in London and previously in Strathclyde. 

It added that these areas have city region sub-networks focused on relatively short trips and largely separate from national and regional operations. ICE argues there is also scope to integrate these further through micro-franchising and integrated ticketing, as is the case with the expanding London Overground network. 

However, where city region integration is not appropriate, perhaps because most routes serve longer distance markets, ICE states that there needs to be “mechanisms for early and effective consultation and meaningful agreement” with city regions integrated into direction for Network Rail, as advocated by the recent One North proposition and programme. 

It also calls for funding from central government to be more flexible. Jonathan Spruce, of ICE’s Transport Expert Panel, said: “As we move towards the General Election, policy makers of all parties are seeking ways to get the best economic, social and environmental return on public money investments, and the devolution of transport powers to stimulate more balanced growth across the UK, is an opportunity at forefront of the debate. 

“The question has now shifted from whether this should happen, to how it should happen and it is time for all political parties to look more seriously at how to pave the way forward and seize this opportunity. 

“This means making some specific changes in national transport policy to help city regions use their greater autonomy to the best effect and ensure it contributes to UK wide goals. We believe a clear, overarching national transport strategy for England – complementing updated documents for the devolved nations – is required, providing a basis for city regions to develop their own strategies.” 

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