'Northern Rail is running out of money and could be taken into public ownership'

A decision on whether troubled rail operator Northern will be taken into public ownership will be made before the end of the month, the Transport Secretary said.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 1:46 pm
Updated Friday, 10th January 2020, 1:53 pm

Grant Shapps said Northern has the finances to continue only “for a number of months”.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Shapps said: “Passengers in the north have had to put up with unacceptable services for too long.

“We understand how frustrating this has been for people and we are taking action to make sure that performance improves.”

A decision will be made between a fresh short-term contract for the operating company Arriva, or a temporary nationalisation via the Deparment for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort, on January 29, Mr Shapps said.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Shapps said.

“I’ve made clear since I became Transport Secretary, as a long-suffering commuter myself, people should be able to turn up, the train should be there, they should be able to get home from work – I’ve missed picking up my kids from school because of this. There are hugely inefficient services. That has to come to an end.”

Northern has faced a range of issues in recent years, such as widespread cancellations amid the introduction of new timetables.

“I hope this sends a strong signal across the whole network, beyond Northern,” said Shapps, who also said his eye was on the recent poor performance of TransPennine Express.

“To clarify, the current financial position of the Northern franchise will not impact on the railway’s day-to-day operations,” Mr Shapps said in his statement. “Services will continue to run and there will be no impact on staff.”

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport lead, said: “Today we reiterated to the Secretary of State our view that moving from Northern to the Operator of Last Resort would secure the best outcome for passengers in the short term.

“We welcomed his proposal for greater local involvement in future decisions and also made clear dramatic improvements are needed on TransPennine Express services.

“The North will only have the modern reliable rail service we need and deserve with fundamental reform and investment to address the capacity crisis on the network.”

Chris Burchell, Arriva’s managing director of UK Trains, said: “We accept services on the Northern network are not yet good enough and we sincerely apologise to our customers for our role in that.

“Many of the issues affecting the franchise however are outside the direct control of Northern.

“Assumptions were given when the plan for the franchise was developed that critical infrastructure projects would be delivered to enable growth and support capacity demands.

“Many of these have either been delayed or cancelled. This, along with unprecedented levels of strike action, has had a significant impact on the franchise – both in terms of service and financial performance.

“These challenges will continue to affect services irrespective of who is running them.

“What is needed is a new plan, and, in that analysis, we are fully in agreement with Government. That is why the Government asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’.”