'End of the line' for Northern Rail as campaigners welcome review

Katerina Vittozzi, North of England correspondent

The UK transport secretary has said it's the "end of the line" for Northern Rail, as a new government review into the company's finances shows it can only support operations for a "few more months".

Grant Shapps told Sky News: "At the end of January I'll announce exactly how we're going to take things forward.

"And in my mind, it's not a moment too soon.

"Things won't change overnight, but this will be the start of a better railway."

In the past 12 months, only 56% of Northern Rail's trains have arrived within a minute of their scheduled arrival time, well below the UK average.

And in 2018, changes to timetables and industrial action led to widespread cancellations.

The new financial forecast means the company could be put onto a new short-term arrangement, or the government could remove its franchise completely and appoint an operator-of-last-resort.

The review has been welcomed by campaigners who have been calling on the government to strip Arriva, Northern Rail's parent company, of the franchise.

"We need to move this on, we can't continue like this," Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, told Sky News.

"The travelling public are at the end of their tether, they've really had enough."

But Chris Burchell, managing director of UK Trains for Arriva, told Sky News: "Assumptions were given when the plan for the franchise was developed that critical infrastructure projects would be delivered to enable growth and support capacity demands.

"Many of these have either been delayed or cancelled."

"These challenges will continue to affect services irrespective of who is running them."


The perils of relying on trains for reporting on them

Eyewitness by Katerina Vittozzi

We were reporting from Leeds Central Station on Thursday.

It's one of the busiest stations in the north, with an average 31m passengers a year.

But if you think it'd be easy to get here, you'd be wrong.

We organised an interview, at the station, with Sarah Longlands. She's the head of a northern research think-tank, based in Manchester.

"Can you make it here before 3.30pm?" we asked.

"Sure! It's only midday. No problem!" she said.

Sarah's office was right next to Manchester Piccadilly station, so she planned to hop on the next train to Leeds which should, normally, take just over an hour.

After all, it's only 35 miles, the length of the London Underground's Central line.

It should be easy, to get between two big northern cities.

On a week day.

At a normal time.

Should be.

Can you see where this is headed?

90 minutes later, Sarah called us back.

"I'm at the station and for God's sake, it's just ridiculous!" she said.

Three trains were delayed, others cancelled. Getting to us, by train and on time, just wasn't going to happen.

So we ended up doing the interview over the phone, which was a shame because what she had to say about Northern Rail was really interesting.

"It's the true the franchise is only part of the problem," she said. "There has to be more investment in infrastructure too.

"But really, can it be so difficult to get a train to run on time?"

Or even, simply, at all?