Train operator Northern stripped of Harrogate line franchise as Government takes control of operator's routes

Rail services on routes operated by Northern will be brought under public control.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 2:02 pm

The rail franchise will come into public ownership from March 1, it is understood.

The operator – which runs services across the North including from Harrogate, Leeds, Knaresborough and York - has come under fire recently for many issues, including delays and has been at the forefront of many Harrogate discussions.

Northern, which provides services across our district, will be stripped of its franchise and brought under Government control from March 1.

In a written statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that from March 1 the Northern franchise would be taken into public ownership and the Government will begin operating services through the so-called operator of last resort.

He said the new public sector operator would be "a company entirely owned by my Department and run by experienced railway managers".

The decision follows months of poor performance by the operator, leading to delays and cancelled trains becoming commonplace for passengers across the North.

Mr Shapps said: "This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning. Northern's network is huge and complex, some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right. Nonetheless, I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible."

He promised that in Yorkshire the hated 1980s' Pacer trains will be gone by the spring and that next year electric trains will be moved to the North from elsewhere in the network, boosting capacity for commuters in Leeds and Manchester.

New technology will be trialled to identify "crowding pinch points" and platforms at 30 stations across the Northern network would be extended to allow for longer trains.

All Northern's trains will be deep-cleaned, said Mr Shapps, and the Government will review the cleaning pattern "to make sure the first and last passengers travel on trains in the same condition".

Mr Shapps said that many of Northern's problems were due to inadequate infrastructure and that the leaders of the public sector operator would sit down with Network Rail "and build a comprehensive new masterplan to review congestion around Manchester".

This work "will complement the work already ongoing to develop an ambitious package of enhancement works at Leeds Station", he said.

"Today’s announcement will inevitably raise questions about the future of rail privatisation. Over the past twenty years privatisation has reversed over two decades of declining passenger numbers and passenger journeys have almost doubled to nearly 2 billion.

"However, it is clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver. Across the country a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require. We know change is needed, and it is coming. The Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure customers are at the heart of the system.

"The railways were invented in the North of England and last year the Prime Minister promised that we would give the railway back to the places it was born. With local leaders having more power over local services, timetables, fares and stations. Today marks the first small step in that journey.

"The first step towards the north taking back control of its railways and its people taking back control of their travelling lives, and its economy being strengthened rather than weakened by its transport network."

Labour Leeds West MP, Rachel Reeves, said: “The Department for Transport has created a new company to run the North’s trains but the Secretary of State has not made a statement to Parliament or answered questions on stripping Arriva of their franchise.

“My constituents, including commuters and staff at Northern Rail, deserve to hear what Shapps has planned. Will he finish the missing infrastructure, from the Castlefield Corridor to Leeds station, will he invest in the extra rolling stock we need and how many extra new trains is he commuting to buy?

“Passengers in the north do not want more second hand trains or to be treated as second class citizens by this government. We want trains that are frequent, affordable, reliable and where you have a chance of getting a seat. It’s not too much to ask.

"Transport investment should now be levelled up to the spending in London and a decade of under investment must be reversed.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley, and chair of the Home Affairs Committee, tweeted: "About time. Delays & cancellations under Northern Rail have been getting worse and worse and worse.

"But Govt also needs a proper plan to invest in our northern railways, trains and stations so we get a fair deal."