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West Midlands Rail Devolution


Scheme: Providing expertise and experience in rail devolution to help West Midlands transport authorities gain greater influence in the specification and management of rail services.
Client: West Midlands Combined Authority (formerly Centro), West Midlands Rail
Working Partners: Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council, Dudley MBC, Herefordshire Council, Northamptonshire County Council, Sandwell MBC, Shropshire Council, Solihull MBC, Staffordshire County Council, Telford and Wrekin Council, Walsall MBC, Warwickshire County Council, Wolverhampton City Council and Worcestershire County Council


In 2012, on behalf of fourteen authorities in the West Midlands, Centro (now part of the West Midlands Combined Authority) began to engage with the Government on rail devolution. Recognising the strategic importance of rail for local and regional economies, they were keen to gain more control of the specification, oversight, quality and development of local rail services and stations.

To create the case, leaders at Centro recognised they would require more resources and expertise in devolved rail. They sought the help of SLC Rail who brought senior level experience from London’s rail devolution.

Achieving political unity

One of the first priorities for the team was to build a strong, effective working group from across the 14 authorities, including politicians and council officers.

Geographically and politically there are pronounced differences between many of the authorities, from inner city areas to sparsely populated rural locations. It was not immediately clear to everyone how the very different needs of their populations and economies could be taken into account in an effective and democratic collaboration.

SLC Rail helped each of the parties to build a greater understanding of how devolved rail would benefit their own areas and the ways in which their political power and decision making abilities would be enhanced through the proposed collaboration. They formed working groups to bring together officers and then politicians, deepening understanding of the commonalities and shared challenges.

As Centro was set to become part of the new West Midlands Combined Authority, a new organisation was created to represent all fourteen authorities, not just those in the Combined Authority. West Midlands Rail Limited was incorporated in December 2015.

Building the case

In October 2014, the Centro team submitted a formal proposition for the incremental devolution of the West Midlands Rail network, including specifying and managing a new rail franchise for the region.

In 'A Rail Vision for the West Midlands' they set out how the rail network can support increased employment and future prosperity in the region. The discussion and recommendations in the report are evidence based, incorporating the findings of detailed economic modelling. The report sets out the requirements for a modern, predominantly electrified rail network, managed locally and responsive to local needs.

  • The report recognises that rail already contributes significantly to the economy of the region, connecting communities with major employment centres, efficiently and safely.
  • It identifies the opportunities for economic growth and job creation, with reductions in many journey times and improvements to the frequency of key services. It seeks improvements in access to the rail network, including new stations.
  • The report also identifies benefits from improved freight services and terminals.
  • The impact of HS2 is identified, including changes to current services, to support and complement high speed routes.
  • Opportunities are identified for new and improved services, taking advantage of capacity released by HS2.

In March 2015, the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed government support for West Midlands rail devolution and for West Midlands Rail.

You may read A Rail Vision for the West Midlands here.

Creating the franchise

As part of the devolution discussions, the Government decided to split the existing London Midland franchise into two parts, so that the local West Midlands routes would be separated from the long distance services (see route map, right). This has enabled the Transport West Midlands team to take a greater role in developing the franchise specification and overseeing its subsequent operation.

The team at SLC Rail are providing programme direction for the West Midlands Combined Authority for the franchise specification process, in particular managing the relationship with the member authorities and the franchise bidders. The franchise competition is due to commence in October 2017. You may read the franchise prospectus here.

In parallel, discussions are continuing, to agree the details of the devolution and the level of influence which will be granted.

Contact us

Call: 0121 285 2622

Email: enquiries@slcrail.com


Our offices:

Guildhall Buildings, 12 Navigation Street, Birmingham, B2 4BT

Bank Quay House, Sankey Street, Warrington, WA1 1NN


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