Northern Rail faces losing its franchise


January 02, 2020

Northern Rail could be stripped of its franchise to run trains across the north of England, the transport secretary has announced.

Grant Schapps, speaking on BBC Breakfast, said the rail operator's performance had been "unacceptable".

Northern has faced mounting criticism over poor service and constant delays to trains.

The operator runs many services in the north including the Morecambe-Lancaster train, and services between Lancaster and Manchester, Lancaster to Barrow-in-Furness, and Lancaster to Leeds. 

"Trains almost routinely don't run on time and I won't put up with that," said Mr Schapps.

"I do not think that the service is anywhere near acceptable."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said a process was under way in Parliament which would either strip Northern of the franchise or issue a short-term contract to them.

David Brown, managing director at Northern, said: "It’s on record that the Northern franchise has faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the past couple of years, outside the direct control of Northern. The most significant of these is the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades.

“The North West electrification was more than two years late, which meant we could not use electric trains on that route or cascade diesel trains from that route to run more services elsewhere on our network. 

“These factors – alongside the damage caused by strike action and lower than expected economic growth – have had a significant effect on the revenue expected in our original franchise business plan agreed with the government back in 2015.

“That’s why the Government has asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’ which will see the completion of our transformation programme.”

“Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving customers’ experience. We are delivering the biggest transformation of local rail for a generation, with 52 of our 101 new trains in service and driver training taking place on dozens of more trains right now.

"Alongside 2,000 extra services per week, this is part of a £600 million investment in improving customers’ experience; we are continuing to invest in better stations, better offers for customers and more recruitment."