Is it time for Northern Rail to be stripped of its franchise?

Rail operator Northern has "consistently failed" and should be stripped of its franchise, two North West mayors have said.

By Paul Berentzen
Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 9:39 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 10:39 am
Calls have been made for rail operator Northern to be stripped of its franchise
Calls have been made for rail operator Northern to be stripped of its franchise

In a joint statement, the mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool have called on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to terminate the franchise as soon as possible.

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Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram said they were speaking on behalf of the 4.3m people they represent, a year after last May's rail timetable chaos, which caused widespread disruption on the railway in Lancashire.

Calls have been made for rail operator Northern to be stripped of its franchise

The two mayors said Northern has failed to deliver a significant and sustained improvement in performance, with nearly a fifth of all services arriving late, 28,000 services cancelled, and a huge increase in services being "shortformed" - reducing the number of carriages on the train - from 2,825 in December 2018 to 4,172 in April 2019.

Northern was also accused of failing to resolve the guards on trains industrial dispute, which has seen 46 days of strike action.

The mayors highlighted the state of Sunday services, saying that last Sunday alone there were 165 unplanned cancellations on top of 90 planned cancellations.

Northern had also failed to introduce new trains, which means the "hated" Pacer trains may not be gone by the end of the year as promised, and promised new services had not been delivered, it was claimed.

The joint statement said: "The Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region Mayors are now urging the Department of Transport to implement an 'Operator of Last Resort' and bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible."

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "RMT welcomes this decisive move by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram and there should now be a swift transition of the Northern routes into a public sector operation. There can be no excuses for any delay.

"RMT will be seeking immediate assurances that the jobs, conditions and pensions of our members will be protected once Arriva are finally kicked off the Northern routes. The union will also expect to see an end to outsourcing of support functions and an absolute commitment to safety and the guard guarantee.

"Any attempt by Chris Grayling and the DfT to sabotage the clear wishes of the democratically elected representatives will spark a furious political backlash. For Arriva Rail North the game is up."

Northern managing director David Brown said: "We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve the performance and reliability for customers.

"The unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change was caused by delays in infrastructure projects out of our control.

"We have apologised to our customers for the pain this caused. We have seen two successful timetable changes since then, introducing many more new services.

"Since last year, we have made a large number of improvements for customers - including better punctuality, investment in new and refurbished trains, over 2,000 new services and hundreds more people employed to help customers.

"These improvements are still a work in progress - but we are making things better for our customers. We want and expect things to continue to improve."