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Call to let councils run railways

PUBLISHED: 09:16 30 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 03 July 2010

A radical solution to improve rail services between Norwich and London was has been put forward by Norwich City Council's leader - "let local councils run the railways".

A radical solution to improve rail services between Norwich and London was has been put forward by Norwich City Council's leader - “let local councils run the railways”.

As National Express was stripped of its franchise to run the region's trains from 2011, council leader Steve Morphew put forward the surprising suggestion that local authorities in towns and cities between Norwich and London should join forces to take over the network.

As chairman of Regional Cities East - an alliance of the six councils in Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Southend-on-Sea, Peterborough and Luton - Mr Morphew intends to speak to his counterparts over the next few days to see if there would be scope in his suggestion.

He said: “The aim would be to establish some sort of public company and we would talk the Government about gifting us the assets of the track and the stations along the line.

“The company would probably finish up being some sort of multi agency arrangement a bit like a local area agreement, which is something the Government is quite keen on.

“We'd have a board, maybe of local business bosses and local councillors, but we would need a really, really strong management team to actually run the company and we might have to pay a lot to get the right people on it.

“But it would then borrow against its assets, get funding from the Government and maybe issue bonds so the company could spend money on investing in the network.”

But he said he was not suggesting at this stage that the new company would run both the trains and the infrastructure. “The critical thing for the East of England is that the infrastructure is right. That is what this company would be committed to doing and then we can see what else is possible,” he said.

Norwich South MP Charles Clarke said he could see some potential in the suggestion.

But Richard Bacon, South Norfolk MP, said Mr Morphew's idea was “for the birds”. He said: “My initial reaction is that there are several problems. One is that I do not think they would have the power to do it and I am almost certain it would require the Government to pass legislation.”

Meanwhile, National Express yesterday received stiff opposition at its shareholder meeting to vote on a £360m rights issue - where a third of votes went against the bus and rail firm.

But the fundraising - which needed at least 50pc of votes in favour - was given the go ahead with 66.8pc support, despite opposition from its biggest shareholder - the Spanish Cosmen family.

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