Northern Rail services to be put into public ownership

Rail services on routes operated by Northern are to be brought under public control.

By Kevin Clark
Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 1:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 2:12 pm
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed Northern Rail services will go into public ownership.  Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed Northern Rail services will go into public ownership. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

In a written statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he wanted "real and tangible" improvements for passengers on Northern's routes.

Transport for the North – which brings together the North’s 20 local and combined authorities, as well as business leaders – welcomed the news the Secretary of State for Transport is stripping Northern of its rail franchise and is bringing in the Operator of Last Resort (OLR).

Barry White, Chief Executive, said: “Our hard-pressed passengers have been calling for action for some time – as have our Members. Now, at last, we have the chance of a fresh start. Action has been taken and we can move forward. This new initiative must put passengers first and provide a reliable rail service that rebuilds trust that has been lost.”

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He added: “In addition to this change, essential infrastructure is needed to reach the levels of performance and reliability we need, and we now need to see early commitment to this and accelerated delivery from Government.”

Mr White said the move provides “a bridge to a better, longer term solution that works for the North” and marks “the start of a journey.”

Mr Shapps has said it is expected the new franchise arrangement will be formally in operation from 1 March. The decision follows a Request for Proposals issued last year with two options on the table – a Direct Award to the incumbent, Northern, under a short-term franchise arrangement – or an award to the Operator of Last Resort bringing the rail franchise under Government control.

Mr White added: “There may be some changes but we will continue to be a champion for the North’s passengers and expect to be fully involved as things evolve. We will monitor and hold the OLR very closely to account.” He said that, in making the award, the Government has stated it recognises Transport for the North’s priorities include improving the situation for passengers, improving performance and ensuring the delivery of the franchise enhancements.

“We called for this. It is good the Government has listened. The DfT has also said it recognises the importance of planning for future growth and enhancements. We want to work in partnership with the operator on the development and delivery of our long-term vision.”

Mr Shapps said: "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 so-called operator of last resort.

"The public-sector operator is a company entirely owned by my department and run by experienced railway managers.

"It already owns and oversee another franchise, East Coast, which it brands as London North Eastern Railway. Passenger satisfaction has risen in the nineteen months it has been operating the service.

"This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning. 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.

"Nonetheless, I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible."

Mr Shapps added that the current model of privatised railways was "failing to deliver".

He said: "Today's announcement will inevitably raise questions about the future of rail privatisation. Over the past twenty years privatisation has reversed over two decades of declining passenger numbers and passenger journeys have almost doubled to nearly 2 billion.

"However, it is clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver. Across the country a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require.

"We know change is needed, and it is coming. The Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure customers are at the heart of the system."

Arriva was due to run Northern until March 2025.