Local rail campaign group “not surprised” Northern has rail franchise taken away
Date published: 08 February 2020
A Northern train
Local rail campaign group STORM (Support the Oldham and Rochdale Manchester rail line) has said it is “not surprised” that the government has decided to renationalise the Northern rail franchise.
The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, last week announced that the government would take over the running of trains on the Northern network as the franchise was no longer financially sustainable.
From Sunday 1 March, the government will take over running services on the Northern network.
Richard Greenwood, chairman of STORM, said: “STORM is not surprised that Northern's franchise is to terminate. It was granted on suppositions that have not been fulfilled by third parties and therefore was unsupportable. Network Rail were years late in completing infrastructure improvements, some of which still have not yet been done.
“The Spanish suppliers of the new trains overran delivery by twelve months and have been tardy in rectifying faults. The bi-mode (diesel or electric trains, the 798 class) on which Department of Transport set their faith have been beset by so many teething problems that none have yet entered passenger service.
“Northern is not completely without blame, however. They can be criticised for example not having a robust plan in place for whenever Network Rail caused portions of line to be closed and not having recruited sufficient drivers for the May 2018 timetable change.
“However, just how quickly the Operator of Last Resort can make noticeable improvements remains to be seen. To get a timetable which can be operated efficiently may mean some services being axed. “Those who are expecting immediate improvements and no change in services are likely to be disappointed.”
To ensure a new vision for the railway is put in place the Transport Secretary has asked Robin Gisby and Richard George, who lead the public-sector operator, to prepare a plan in their first 100 days.
This will be a top to bottom review of everything from operational management, to rostering patterns and, most critically, customer experience.
The government has also pledged to introduce a introduce a number of electric trains on the network, lengthen 30 platforms by the spring, clean all existing trains and improve reliability of Sunday services.
It will also include setting up a cross-industry Task Force to deliver recommendations for improving capacity and performance.
Many of Northern’s problems are infrastructure related. The Transport Secretary has instructed the leadership of the public-sector operator to sit down with Network Rail and build a comprehensive new masterplan to review congestion around Manchester.
This decision will not affect jobs or introduce changes to fares or tickets for passengers.
Speaking on the day Northern lost the franchise, Chris Burchell, Arriva MD UK Trains, which operates Northern, said: “We had a clear vision for the Northern franchise that would better connect the cities of the North with more frequent, reliable and modern services and unlock economic growth. It was clear however that, largely because of external factors, the franchise plan had become undeliverable. A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services. As such, we understand government’s decision.
“We recognise however that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better. For that, we wholeheartedly apologise. We now stand ready to support government and the Operator of Last Resort to ensure a smooth transfer for our passengers and colleagues alike.
“I am confident that as a result of the determination and hard work of the Northern rail team, they have helped set strong foundations for future improvement on the network.”
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