Birmingham could become the first city to take back control of its railway stations from private firms.
Regional transport body Centro has made a case for wresting back the right to operate and manage some of the 67 stations across the West Midlands.
Authors of a report outlined to Centro’s transport strategy committee said they believe that the body would be better placed to make life easier for passengers.
Coun Ken Rushen (Lib Dem, Solihull) told members that by accepting the same funding that is paid to Network Rail and the operators it would be able to plough more cash in to stations.
“At the moment the way stations are operated is rather fragmented, with some money going to operators and some going to Network Rail,” said Coun Rushen.
“We need to develop multi-modal interchanges so commuters can change from bus to train. I think there is also a sense of pride that comes from local ownership.”
Coun Rushen also expressed concerns that some operators had adopted a “make-do-and-mend” approach to maintenance.
“Only Chiltern Railways seem interested in investing and we believe we can attract better catering and retail facilities.
“There may be one or two of the operators which are resistant to this but we will continue working with the Department for Transport.”
Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip said there was some suspicion about how much money from the Department of Transport for maintenance was reaching stations.
“There is some money going in to rail stations but we don’t know where it goes,” he said. “We are therefore proposing that this revenue scheme should come through Centro so the system can be more transparent.”
A draft strategy was welcomed by members and Centro leaders will continue to work with Network Rail and the DfT.
Meanwhile, Birmingham business leaders have asked for talks with train operators bidding for the franchise to operate the West Coast Mainline between Birmingham and London.
Virgin Trains, which currently operates the line, had asked for a two-year extension to its current contract, which ends in 2012, but this was rejected by the Government.
Transport Minister Theresa Villiers said the Government would listen to bids for a new 15-year franchise.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: “Based on discussions with prospective franchisees, Birmingham Chamber Group will also provide a view to the DfT on the alignment of the potential franchisee with the perceived needs of business. Services from London to the West Midlands have not enjoyed the recent journey time reductions that have been experienced on routes between London, Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. West Midlands business is concerned this has created a competitive disadvantage and we will make this point to prospective franchisees.”
Business leaders are understood to be furious about an advert placed in the Tory Party Conference brochure by Virgin, which claimed journey times from the capital to Birmingham were two hours and eight minutes on average. The actual journey time rarely exceeds one hour and 25 minutes.
A member of the West Midlands Business Transport Group has revealed in an anonymous online blog post that the advert angered members – especially as the time is only eight minutes quicker than when the service was launched 30 years ago.
The rail operator sent a representative to the last meeting of the group, which is hosted by Birmingham Chamber, but he was unable to list three features of the route that had improved since they took on the franchise.
The blog reads: “Aggrieved Black Country businessfolk were horrified to learn that the journey from Wolverhampton to London (126 miles) actually takes nine minutes longer than the journey from Warrington to London (180 miles).”
Birmingham Chamber said it did not endorse the comments of the blogger.
A spokesman for Virgin said: “We admit we got it wrong with the poster and if it has caused any distress we apologise. I’m sure they know that the actual journey time is a lot shorter. We operate to the timetable laid out in the franchise. We look forward to seeing the specification for the new franchise.”