Northern Rail has today been given the ultimate punishment for years of delays and under-performance.
The government has announced that the franchise is to be renationalised, with operator Arriva stripped of its contract – which was due to run until 2025 – on March 1st.
From that date, the “operator of last resort” – managed by the Department for Transport (DfT) – will take control of services.
In a statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It’s no surprise that passengers have lost trust in the north’s rail network.
“The service provided by the rail network in the north has failed to meet the needs of passengers.
“I am announcing today that from 1 March the Northern Rail franchise will be taken into public ownership and the government will begin operating services through the public-sector operator.”
The main cities served by Northern Rail are Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. Northern Rail’s Pacer trains are a common site at Altrincham Interchange on the Mid-Cheshire line.
“I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible,” Shapps said.
Passengers will be desperately hoping that the news will herald the end to a service which has seemed to only deteriorate despite Arriva’s plans to modernise and expand train services.
But Shapps cautioned that it will not be a quick fix.
“This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning,” he said. “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.”
Shapps announced a number of interim changes, including the deep-cleaning of Northern Rail trains, introduction of more electric trains and the extension of platforms at 30 stations across the network to ease overcrowding.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham welcomed the decision.
“Today’s news is a victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern Rail,” he said.
“We are pleased the government has finally answered our call and returned the Northern franchise to public ownership. But today’s welcome move by ministers is only the start of fixing the North’s railways.
“The Government must now commit to investing in much-needed rail infrastructure and work with leaders across the North to deliver the vision and funding needed to build the modern transport network that the people of our region deserve.”