Boris steps in over rail chaos as Harrogate passengers await improvements
Boris Johnson's transport minister Grant Shapps is expected to make a new announcement on the future of Northern which may affect Harrogate rail passengers when he visits Leeds today, Thursday for a key meeting of Transport for the North.
His visit comes as Harrogate’s MP Andrew Jones told the Harrogate Advertiser says the Government is right to considering stripping rail operator Northern of its franchise.
Under increasing fire for its history of persistent delays and cancellations, something experienced on a daily basis by Harrogate passengers, even the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now got involved.
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons yesterday that he shared people’s “outrage” at Northern’s poor performance and was now “looking at the whole way the franchising system operates.”
The PM’s intervention comes a week after his new Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said he was “not prepared” to tolerate the rail operator’s poor performance any longer.
It’s a viewpoint shared by Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones who said Northern’s record on the Harrogate-Leeds line had not been good enough.
Mr Jones, a rail minister under previous Prime Minister Theresa May, said: “It is a great shame we have reached this point but it is right to take action. There were the well-known issues around the timetable change in 2018, and whilst we have seen improvements, problems have continued.
“We have seen more services on our local line. We have seen faster services. The rickety old Pacer trains are nearly all gone and we have more daily services to London using brand new trains. But the levels of service from Northern Rail have been below what we need.
“Passengers are being let down so that is why taking action is right.”
As well as the chaos often caused by a shortage of trained drivers, passengers have been hit by a new ticket price rise of 2.7% on average.
Mr Jones told the Harrogate Advertiser, such was his concern at the situation, he had contacted both the current rail minister and the head of Northern to press for a better rail service.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris told a meeting yesterday that the “end game” had now been reached.
And Grant Shapps himself is expected to make a new announcement when he visits Leeds today, Thursday.
Harrogate passengers will be waiting with bated breath for details on what the Government intends to do about a company which consistently comes bottom of Transport Focus’ passenger surveys.
In a further blow to Northern’s reputation, The Yorkshire Post has revealed that the company asked to be allowed to miss the targets in its franchise agreement for refurbishing its fleet of trains.
Appearing at meeting of Rail North Committee in Leeds, yesterday, to discuss the issue, the boss of German-owned Arriva UK, which runs Northern, said the franchise plan had become “essentially undeliverable” because of factors including lack of infrastructure and lack of economic growth.
Arriva’s managing director Chris Burchell, admitted an entire new plan was needed.
As the chaos continues, Network Rail is increasing its investment for new infrastructure across the country.
The question is whether any of it can possibly come soon enough for Northern?