A LEADING group of MPs have demanded the Government follow the successful "Merseyside model" to end confusion and misery for passengers on Britain's railways.
The Commons transport committee hailed the "promising results" of the experiment which transferred control over Merseyrail from London to local transport leaders.
It said punctuality on the network appeared to be improving since the switch last July, with a new focus on cleanliness and safety, and an extra ability to link services with local buses.
Yet the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) appeared to be "closing the door" on a similar devolution of power to other passenger transport authorities, the MPs said.
Their report, published yesterday, called on Transport Secretary Alistair Darling to repeat the Merseyside initiative elsewhere in the country, as part of a rail review.
It concluded: "We are worried and puzzled that the SRA indicated this interesting example of a local public/private partnership in Merseyside was something which could not readily be repeated.
"The nature of the Merseyside franchise area makes it an obvious candidate for devolution of rail services. But the SRA's position on closing the door appears highly unimaginative."
Nine months ago, Merseytravel was handed control of the rail network across the metropolitan area and decided to award a 25-year operating franchise to Serco/NedRailways.
A more regular timetable has been introduced, linked to local bus services along the lines of railways in Switzerland, with punctuality running at 94.2%.
In evidence to the MPs last October, Merseytravel chief executive Neil Scales said: "We do not have to go 200 miles down to London to get a decision. It is all done in Merseyside."
Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Riverside, who sits on the committee, said the model would not be suitable for inter-city services, but should be followed for more local routes.
She said: "This model offers local control with a real potential for improvement, yet it appears the SRA does not want to give up its power."
Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd said last night: "This is a very authoritative report by the MPs, who have seen the benefits that are being brought to Merseyside by our unique arrangements."
The MPs criticised the SRA's reluctance to give up power as they called for both it and Network Rail to be scrapped.
They demanded a single railway agency, highlighting confusion and "buck-passing" between the various rail bodies.
This "divided leadership" was plain to see in the endless wrangling over the troubled upgrade of the West Coast main line.
There was still confusion over whether improvements to allow trains to run at 125mph between London and Liverpool would be in place by this September.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said he agreed with much of the report but insisted the committee had ignored the fact that the "railway is improving".