Government confirms Northern Rail is to be nationalised
Transport minister Grant Shapps has confirmed that Northern Rail is to be nationalised.
The news comes after months of delays and cancellations on rail services across the North West.
Major problems were triggered by the introduction of a new timetable in May, 2018.
The move will see the firm’s franchise stripped from operator Arriva Rail North from 1 March.
The “operator of last resort”, managed by the Department for Transport (DfT), already manages the LNER franchise, which runs services from London to the Noth East.
The government previously described the delays and cancellations as “unacceptable”.
Mr Shapps said passengers had “lost trust in the North’s rail network”.
He said: “People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.”
Northern passengers have faced rail chaos ever since new timetables were introduced in May 2018.
Greater Manchester mayor has been calling for the firm to be axed for months.
He said: “We haven’t had a seven-day rail service for pretty much two years, it’s been a six-day service with widespread cancellations on a Sunday – so how can a city region like ours function on that basis? It can’t, can it?
“But it’s more than that – every day I get emails from people stranded on platforms because the train turns ups with two carriages, they can’t get on.
“The list goes on and on, it’s been a catalogue of failure.”
Henri Murison, Northern Powerhouse partnership director, said: “In stripping Northern of their franchise in favour of a return to public ownership under the Department for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort, the Transport Secretary is dealing with the symptoms, but not necessarily the root causes of the problems, which relate to infrastructure.
“And his absence from the House of Commons to make a statement in person and answer questions today is frankly unacceptable and will not have gone unnoticed amongst many Northern business and civic leaders.
“The problems, performance-wise and financially since the May timetable debacle, all the result of promises made to build infrastructure made by the Department of Transport during the bidding process, but never actually delivered on.”
Mark Dexter, chief executive of Cheshire-based, KDR Recruitment, said: “While it is good news that the scale of the problems with the service Northern Rail has been delivering in the North of England has been recognised, nationalising the service is not the answer.
“There needs to be substantial investment in the infrastructure if the North of England is to receive a rail system that is fit for the 21st century. While there is much talk of reducing carbon emissions by encouraging people to use public transport, we have a system here that is so appalling that people are being forced back into their cars.
“For businesses in the North trying to attract the best talent, a public transport system that is reliable and fit for purpose is essential. The sustained lack of investment by government directly hits the ability of the North of England to maximise its economic potential.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union ASLEF, welcomed the move.
He added: “There won’t be an immediate improvement because many of the systemic failures at Northern – the late delivery of new rolling stock, the cancellation by the Conservative government of infrastructure upgrades, trying to run a service with too few drivers – cannot be remedied overnight.”
Roger Marsh, chair of NP11 group, said: “Creating a joined-up transport system that supports the Northern economy and acts as a route to inward investment in our region is something the NP11 have called for in our Manifesto for the North.
“Whilst increased focus on the day-to-day issues faced by Northern businesses and their employees should be welcomed, the real prize can only be reached through a commitment to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. A modern high-speed railway will release capacity on the existing network, benefitting the whole of the North, from Chesterfield to Carlisle and Berwick to Birkenhead.”
David Mathias, partner in the Planning and Environment team at Shoosmiths Manchester, said: “Whilst today’s announcement might result in more disruption in the short term it is welcomed as Northern has been a consistently poor performer, even prior to the May 2018 timetable changes that caused more widespread disruption across the rail network.
“However if the Government is truly committed to ‘levelling—up’ transport infrastructure in the North it will need to do more than axe one of its failing train service operators. Very significant investment into the physical rail infrastructure network in the North is necessary to increase capacity and reliability for regional commuters. The issues caused by years of underinvestment will not be remedied by nationalising Northern and reopening lines cut in the Beeching Review. “