Rail authority re-draws the franchise map

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The Independent Online

A new railway map of Britain was revealed yesterday, aimed at reflecting a greater demand for better cross-country links for business and a perceived decline in the economic importance of London.

A new railway map of Britain was revealed yesterday, aimed at reflecting a greater demand for better cross-country links for business and a perceived decline in the economic importance of London.

The shadow Strategic Rail Authority proposed changes to the areas covered by franchises which shift the emphasis away from routes into the capital and acknowledge the move towards political devolution.

One of the centrepieces of the policy, which aims at delivering 50 per cent growth in the industry over the next decade, is the creation of a Trans Pennine Express franchise which upgrades to InterCity status the existing links between Newcastle, York, Manchester and Liverpool. Nine groups have already registered an interest in applying for the licence.

Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the authority, also announced another long-distance high-speed franchise serving the Anglia-Humberside area.

Reflecting moves towards devolution, the authority called for applications for a new franchise covering Wales and the borders presently served by seven existing operators.

A large new Northern franchise, currently run by First North Western and Northern Spirit and covering the area between the M62 up to the Scottish border, will also be up for grabs. In an attempt to ensure that train services are integrated with other forms of transport, however, the new operator will be expected to create new business units centred on five existing Passenger Transport Executives in the region.

Reinforcing the view that London should not necessarily be seen the most important transport hub, Sir Alastair said that New Street Birmingham should be regarded as the key station in the national network.

The authority's proposed map would cut passenger train franchises from 25 to 22, although Sir Alastair said the shape of areas could change if companies came forward with better ideas. Apart from the new Northern area, which would swallow up two existing licences, the authority argues that Merseyrail Electrics and the Island Line on the Isle of Wight should be separated from the national franchise system.

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