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Government takes steps towards stripping Northern of rail franchise

Credit: PA

The first steps have been taken towards potentially stripping train operator Northern of its franchise.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapp told MPs he has issued a "request for proposals" from the firm and the Operator of Last Resort (OLR). This could lead to services being brought into government control and run by the OLR.

Giving evidence to the Commons' Transport Select Committee, he said the level of performance on the Northern network "cannot continue".

He went on: "I entirely believe we cannot carry on just thinking it's OK for trains not to arrive or Sunday services not being in place. That simply has to change."

It comes 18 months after timetable changes caused widespread chaos for passengers in the north west of England.

Mr Shapps told the committee he looked up "on time" statistics showing the percentage of scheduled stops at stations which trains are making within a minute of the timetable.

He said: "Northern's current performance sits at 57%, literally just better than a one in two chance of a train arriving on time.

"That has actually fallen in the last six months from 61% in March, while the UK average sits at 65.1%.

"Nearly two-thirds of all trains arrive on time but if you're on Northern it's not much over half. That is a big gap.

"I've started to take action."

German-based Arriva holds the franchise, which is due to run until March 2025, but the operator has been under fire in recent years due to widespread disruption.

The Transport Secretary said the level of performance on the Northern network "cannot continue". Credit: PA

The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 saw up to 310 trains a day cancelled.

Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region, have repeatedly called for Northern to be stripped of its franchise.

In May, the pair issued a joint statement claiming the firm had "consistently failed" to deliver its legally binding requirements.

“It’s on record that the Northern franchise has faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the past couple of years, outside the direct control of Northern.

"The most significant of these is the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades.

“The North West electrification was more than two years late, which meant we could not use electric trains on that route or cascade diesel trains from that route to run more services elsewhere on our network. More recently, new and longer platforms at Leeds stations are delayed, which means we have had to postpone our plans to run longer trains.

“These factors – alongside the damage caused by strike action and lower than expected economic growth – have had a significant effect on the revenue expected in our original franchise business plan agreed with government back in 2015.

“That’s why the Government has asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’. We are well underway with the development of that plan, which will see the completion of our transformation programme.”

– DAVID BROWN, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF NORTHERN

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