Metro Mayors call on Government to terminate Northern Rail franchise

The Metro Mayors for the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester have called on the Government to terminate Northern Rail’s franchise as soon as possible.

Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham say the franchise has failed to show they are able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver their legally-binding franchise requirements, particularly after last Summer’s timetable fiasco which led to thousands of delays and cancellations.

In the past year there have been 28,000 cancellations, while last month alone almost 1,000 services to Manchester were ‘shortformed’ ie, reducing the number of carriages on the train.

The mayors’ call to the Transport Secretary is based on a succession of failings by the franchise, including:

  • Failure to deliver a significant and sustained improvement in performance – with nearly a fifth of all services arriving late, 28,000 services cancelled, and a huge increase in services being “shortformed” from 2,825 in December 2018 to 4,172 in April 2019
  • Failure to resolve the dispute over a second person on the train – which has seen 46 days of strike action
  • Failure to operate Sunday Services – last Sunday alone there were 165 unplanned cancellations on top of 90 planned cancellations
  • Failure to introduce new trains – meaning retention of the hated Pacer trains which were decommissioned buses welded together
  • Failure to deliver new services – such as a range of promised additional hourly services in much-needed parts of the network

The mayors want 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, although they praised the company’s hard working staff.

Mr Burnham said: “We do 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.”

At a morning press conference where they issued their call, they also insisted that the rights of Northern staff must be protected under the new arrangements.

Mr 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.

“The Department for Transport has a legal obligation to provide for an operator of last resort without negative impacts for passengers. 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.”

He added: “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.”

Mr 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 stripe Arriva Rail North of this franchise and stabilise the franchise under the control of the Government.”

David Brown, managing director at Northern, 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.”