Metro Mayors call for ‘urgent clarification’ on Northern Rail franchise

Transport Secretary suggests Northern Rail could be stripped of its franchise but Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham say passengers need more certainty, and quickly. Tony McDonough reports

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, left, with Greater Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham


Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is calling for am “urgent” clarification on the future of the troubled Northern Rail franchise.

On Thursday morning Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested Northern, which operates train services out of Liverpool Lime Street and across the North of England, could lose its franchise following years of delays, cancellations and timetable chaos.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Shapps said: “In the autumn I wrote to the necessary parties in this with what’s called a request for proposal. And that’s simply where you take action.

“There are a couple of ways that can go. But one is to strip a franchise, one is to have a short term contract… I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) followed this up with a short statement, saying: “As the Secretary of State said, he has started a process which would either strip Northern of its franchise or issue a short-term contract to them.”

However, both Mr Rotheram, and his Greater Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham, have called on the Government to give more clarification and repeated the calls for Northern to be stripped of its franchise.

Mr Rotheram said: “For 18 months Andy Burnham and I have been calling on the Government to get to grips with of the chaos on the railways of the North and remove the franchise from Northern.

“Today’s announcement from the Transport Secretary that he is belatedly going to take some action will be welcomed by passengers – however it is still unclear what this means in practice.

“This is not good enough. Passengers and staff need clarity, so the Secretary of State should urgently explain his statement and set out a clear plan as to how he will bring back stability to our railways.

Passengers will also feel rightly aggrieved that rail fares on Northern have gone up by as much as £100 today for a service described as ‘unacceptable’ by the Secretary of State. Given this, the Government must now step in and cancel today’s fare rises.”

And Mr Burnham added on Twitter: “Today must be the last day when commuters in the North are asked to pay more for a poor service.”

Northern itself response with a long statement from managing director Dave Brown in which he said the operator had faced “several material and unprecedented challenges in the past couple of years”. He said: “The most significant of these is the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades.

Northern Rail
Northern Rail trains at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station


“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.”

Mr Brown added the DfT had now asked the company to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’ which, he explained, would see the completion of its ‘transformation programme’.

“We are delivering the biggest transformation of local rail for a generation, with 52 of our 101 new trains in service and driver training taking place on dozens more trains right now,” he said. “Alongside 2,000 extra services per week, this is part of a £600m investment in improving customers’ experience; we are continuing to invest in better stations, better offers for customers and more recruitment.

“These discussions have no impact on rail services for customers. Our job is to continue to provide the best service possible for our customers whilst any discussions are taking place.”

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