Northern Rail to be stripped of franchise following troubled performance

Train operator Northern Rail is to be stripped of its franchise, as punctuality and reliability problems continue to blight the network.

Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 11:46 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 2:19 pm
Northern Rail is to be stripped of its franchise.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that ‘frustrated commuters will not have to wait long’ before action is taken.

It comes as reliability problems continue across the network following the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 which saw up to 310 Northern trains a day cancelled.

Office of Rail and Road figures show just 55.6% of Northern trains arrived at stations within one minute of the timetable in the 12 months to December 7, compared with the average across Britain of 65.3%.

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Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

German-based Arriva operates the Northern franchise, which is due to run until March 2025.

Its trains include those servicing Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

Asked if Northern will be stripped of its franchise,Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said: “The simple answer to the question is yes, it is going to be brought to an end.

"It's partially a legal process but frustrated commuters will not have to wait long."

Mr Shapps announced in autumn that he had taken the first steps towards potentially taking the franchise away by issuing a "request for proposals".

The existing agreement with Northern will be replaced by either a new short-term management contract or by nationalising services by putting the Government-controlled Operator of Last Resort in charge.

Northern says it has faced unprecedented challenges which were "outside the direct control of Northern" such as the late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades and delays in the building and delivery of new trains.

Thousands of long-distance commuters saw the annual cost of getting to work increase by more than £100 on Thursday as average fares rose by 2.7%.

Fewer than half (47%) of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train tickets, according to the latest survey by watchdog Transport Focus.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, said: “I have been calling for Northern Rail to be stripped of its franchise for months, so I am pleased the Transport Secretary has today confirmed he is starting the process of appointing a new rail operator for the region.

“Hard-working local people rightly demand a reliable high-quality rail service and it’s been clear for far too long that Northern are simply not up to the job.

“Just last month I was forced to write to Northern’s Managing Director following their utter failure to remove all the hated Pacer trains from Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool by the end of the year as they promised to do.

“Coupled with the rail operators wholly unacceptable performance over recent months I’m pleased Grant Shapps is acting in the interest of northern travellers.”