Northern Rail to be renationalised

Ailing train operator Northern Rail is to be renationalised, the government has announced.

It will be taken back into public ownership on 1 March, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced.

The “operator of last resort”, part of the Department for Transport (DfT), already manages the LNER franchise, which runs services from London to cities in north east England.

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The decision follows the transport secretary’s announcement at the start of January that the beleaguered train operator would be stripped of its franchise following “unacceptable” performance.

Mr Shapps had suggested that the Northern franchise could only continue for “a number of months”.

The botched timetable change of May 2018, during which thousands of trains were cancelled, was largely blamed on Northern – which has struggled to recover ever since.

But the government’s announcement conceded: “Many of Northern’s problems are infrastructure-related.”

A first step will probably involve actually cutting services – reducing the number of trains scheduled to run through the “Castlefield Corridor” between Manchester’s Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations. Overambitious timetabling on this bottleneck makes delays inevitable.

Northern is the latest rail franchise to run into financial problems.

The Northern network is operated by Arriva Rail North, which is owned by the German railway, Deutsche Bahn.

While the region extends from Nottingham to Northumberland and from Stoke-on-Trent to Carlisle, the main cities it serves are Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.

“This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning,” said Mr Shapps in a statement.

“Northern’s network is huge and complex, some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right. Nevertheless, I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.”

In his statement, Mr Shapps announced a number of interim changes. Northern Rail trains would be deep-cleaned and platforms at 30 stations across the network would be extended to ease overcrowding.

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester has long been calling for renationalisation. He told ITV News: “People right across the north will be feeling a great sense a relief. This is the right decision from the government.”

But he warned: “People shouldn’t expect dramatic improvements overnight.”

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “This latest failure of another rail franchise proves yet again that the current system is broken.

“There needs to be a more flexible, outcome-based system, with greater competition on inter-city routes and devolution to the city regions, with accountability to both passengers and taxpayers.”

Earlier this month, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said it has put Network Rail “on warning” for its poor performance in central and northwest England.

Its latest figures show Network Rail was responsible for 58 per cent of “delay minutes” during 2019.

 

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