Future of Northern Rail being evaluated, says Government

By Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent

The Northern Rail franchise will only be able to continue “for a number of months”, according to the most recent financial information, the Government has said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced he is evaluating a proposal from the train operator on options for continuing its franchise.

“Following completion of this process I will consider whether to award ARN (Arriva Rail North) a short-term management contract or whether to ask the Department of Transport’s own operator of last resort to step in and deliver passenger services,” he said.

Longer-term decisions on the franchise will be made in the light of recommendations of the Williams Rail Review, expected to be published shortly.

Chris Burchell, Arriva’s managing director of UK Trains, said: “We accept services on the Northern network are not yet good enough and we sincerely apologise to our customers for our role in that.

“Many of the issues affecting the franchise however are outside the direct control of Northern. 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. This, along with unprecedented levels of strike action, has had a significant impact on the franchise – both in terms of service and financial performance.

(PA Graphics)

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

“What is needed is a new plan and, in that analysis, we are fully in agreement with Government. That is why the Government asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “This is just another fudge by the Tory Government on Northern but it still proves without a shadow of a doubt that their private franchise model for running our railways is finished.

“The whole privatisation experiment which has reduced our railways to chaos must now be consigned to the dustbin of history.

“Other basket cases – South Western Railway, ‎Scotrail, TransPennine Express and the rest – should also be put out of their misery and be brought into public ownership as soon as is practically possible and I have written again to the Transport Secretary to discuss exactly that.

“This nonsense cannot go on. Today’s decision by Grant Shapps makes a mockery of the imminent Williams Review which didn’t even consider the public ownership model.”

(PA Graphics)

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “This non-statement from the Government is a complete betrayal of long-suffering Northern Rail passengers.

“Instead of a ‘short-term option’ to be announced later in the month, the Government should do the right thing now and immediately bring Northern Rail into public ownership. It’s blindingly obvious to anyone with an understanding of the extent of the failure of Northern Rail that the positive proven record of public ownership is what is required and what passengers and staff deserve.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “The fragmented rail system does not work. The Government should get on with it and bring track and train together under one company in public ownership.”

Transport for the North’s strategic rail director David Hoggarth said: “Today’s announcement means that, finally, hard-pressed passengers can get the chance of a fresh start.

“We welcome the clear timeline for a decision to be made by the end of January. We’ve been clear that putting an operator of last resort in place of Northern would be the only way to rebuild trust and confidence, and secure the right outcome for passengers.

A Northern train at Leeds Station (Danny Lawson/PA)

David Sidebottom, director of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Whichever organisation runs Northern Rail services, under whatever new arrangements, passengers will want a reliable service.

“They also need a clear plan on how the next operator will deliver sustained improvements without disruption and introduce all the new trains promised to increase capacity and address overcrowding.

“Passengers deserve better. The next operator must listen to passengers and communicate their plan to improve services and rebuild trust amongst passengers.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “We know that the most important thing for passengers is reliable services and we’re sorry when this doesn’t happen.

“Northern are introducing thousands of new services and more than 100 new trains on their routes but the ongoing performance issues indicate that there are deeper issues that will not be addressed by a change of ownership.

“We want to work with government to drive forward meaningful reform of the railway, introducing an independent organising body and easier fares system that will deliver lasting benefits for everyone.”