DfT rejects mayors’ call to terminate Northern Rail

Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham

The mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region have called on the UK’s Transport Secretary to terminate Northern Rail’s franchise as soon as possible.

A nine-year franchise to operate the line was awarded to Arriva Rail North, a subsidiary of German state-owned operator Deutsche Bahn, in 2016.

Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram made the call following the rail timetable chaos that has plagued the service in the past year.

The mayors said they believe Northern Rail “has consistently failed to show they are able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver their legally-binding franchise requirements.”

The Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region mayors are urging the Department of Transport to implement an ‘Operator of Last Resort’ and bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible.

However, the UK’s Department for Transport said that services were improving and that changing the train operator could cause yet more disruption.

“We see no reason at this stage to consider making changes to the franchise,” said the DfT in a statement.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “We have been extremely patient with Northern but enough is enough.

“They promised us that things would be significantly better by May 2019 and that hasn’t happened.

“Train services across Greater Manchester and the North West remain unreliable and over-crowded.

“Sunday services are still subject to widespread cancellation and promises of new rolling stock have not been kept.

“The people of Greater Manchester deserve much better than this.

“That’s why, together with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, I am calling on the Transport Secretary to strip Arriva Rail North of this franchise and stabilise the franchise under the control of the government.

“It is only through taking this action that we can restore the trust of the public and deliver a rail network that finally works for its passengers.

“We wish to make clear that we do not blame the staff of Northern who have worked hard over the last year in very difficult circumstances.

“We believe they, and the travelling public, have been let down by Northern’s management who have had plenty of opportunity to show how they will meet franchise requirements but have failed to do so.”

Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram, said: “For too long the people of the Liverpool City Region and the whole of the North have been forced to accept rail services that are simply not good enough.

“Whether it’s frequent cancellations, short forming of trains or late arrivals Northern’s board have repeatedly failed to deliver on their franchise obligations.

“Given Northern’s consistent failure to provide an acceptable service we believe it is now time for Chris Grayling to terminate their franchise and move to that operator of last resort, as soon as possible. 

“Stripping Northern of their franchise will not solve all of the issues with our railways – the problems go far beyond just them – but it would be an important signal that the North is no longer prepared to put up with a second class service and a first step towards building the rail network that passengers deserve.”

Arriva Rail North managing director David Brown said.“We agree the north deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve the performance and reliability for customers …

“The unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change was caused by delays in infrastructure projects out of our control.

“We have apologised to our customers for the pain this caused.

“We have seen two successful timetable changes since then, introducing many more new services.

“Since last year, we have made a large number of improvements for customers, including better punctuality, investment in new and refurbished trains, over 2,000 new services and hundreds more people employed to help customers.

“These improvements are still a work in progress, but we are making things better for our customers. We want and expect things to continue to improve.”