Merseyrail Train at Liverpool Central (Photo: Tony Miles)

UK: Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram and the Department for Transport have reached an agreement in principle on a memorandum of understanding for the devolution of the infrastructure of the Merseyrail network.

Whilst discussions are at a relatively early stage, it is understood that a formal transfer would see the Combined Authority taking direct control of the signalling, track and stations over the majority of the network. With the deal likely to involve significant sections of land, this could open up new opportunities for commercial and residential development.

A similar case for the transfer of stations has been made by Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, who also suggests that the current ownership structure has not maximised opportunities to exploit station buildings and the land around them.

Whilst Rotheram is reported by local press to be keen to conclude the agreement, a number of issues need to be resolved. These include the exact scope of the transfer, as some peripheral sections of Merseyrail network share tracks and stations with other rail services. However, similar questions have been resolved elsewhere, including for Manchester Metrolink and the Tyne & Wear Metro, so this is not expected to pose a significant challenge.

The change of ownership would feed into discussions over the future of the operational control of Merseyrail services; the 25-year concession held by Serco-Abellio ends in 2028, and the mayor has made it clear that he believes a move to a publicly-owned operator should be included in the range of options to be evaluated.