It seems Her Majesties Government has had enough of Northern by Arriva and has chosen to strip the operator of its railway franchise – thus nationalising the operator.
The move comes after Northern Rail was fiscally unstable to the point where it could only operate sustainably for a “few more months”. Combined with a mess of a timetable introduction, unhappy relations with the rail unions, late delivery of new rolling stock (whilst retiring older rolling stock), and infrastructure works that have not been completed, it seems Arriva could not make Northern Rail work in this franchise.
The Government has appointed the “Operator of Last Resort” (or OLR) to take over train services from Northern. This will be Northern Trains Limited.
The change over will be effective from 1st March 2020.
In terms of open duties to be completed, the OLR will continue to fulfil the commitments made by Arriva – including
- Introduce a number of electric trains from elsewhere on the network, boosting capacity for commuters into Manchester and Leeds
- Lengthening platforms at 30 stations by the spring, in addition to the 30 already completed, to allow longer trains to run
- All existing trains will be deep-cleaned and the approach to cleaning reviewed to ensure passengers experience the service they deserve from the first train to the last
- Build on the recent agreement with ASLEF Union and improve the reliability of Sunday services
Some of this is continuing works that were promised by Northern Rail.
Northern Rail provides regional, local, rural and inter-urban rail services in the North of England (Manchester/Liverpool/Leeds/Yorkshire), calling at over 528 destinations, with 464 stations managed by the company.
For those who need the aviation angle, it connects Manchester Airport directly – meaning it is one the key ways to get from Manchester Airport into the City Centre and North West.
It operates over 108 million passenger journeys a year on 2800 daily services, using a mixture of rolling stock (with new rolling stock being introduced and older stock being retired).
Is my rail ticket still valid?
Tickets will remain on sale from Northern Rail and will remain valid through the transition to Northern Trains. Advance tickets can be purchased with confidence in that they will be honoured by the new operator.
Chris Burchell, Arriva MD UK Trains said:
“We had a clear vision for the Northern franchise that would better connect the cities of the North with more frequent, reliable and modern services and unlock economic growth. It was clear however that, largely because of external factors, the franchise plan had become undeliverable. A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services. As such, we understand Government’s decision today.
“I would like to recognise the hard work of the 6,000 strong team at Northern who have worked tirelessly over the last four years to deliver improvements to local rail services in the North, at times under extremely difficult conditions.
“The scale of the challenges we faced outside of our direct control were unprecedented, particularly around delayed or cancelled infrastructure projects and prolonged strike action. Despite the challenges, the team has introduced brand new trains onto the network for the first time in a generation. They have introduced more than 2,000 extra services per week, refurbished trains and stations, and created hundreds of new customer-facing jobs as part of a £600 million investment programme for the North.
“We recognise however that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better. For that, we wholeheartedly apologise. We now stand ready to support Government and the Operator of Last Resort to ensure a smooth transfer for our passengers and colleagues alike.
“I am confident that as a result of the determination and hard work of the Northern rail team, they have helped set strong foundations for future improvement on the network.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning.
Northern’s network is huge and complex and some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right. But I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.
The railways were invented in the north. Last year the Prime Minister promised that we would give the railway back to the places it was born, giving more power over services, fares, and stations to local leaders.
Today (29 January 2020) marks the first small step towards the north taking back control of its railways and its people taking back control of their travelling lives.
There will be no more leaving behind. This government is committed to levelling-up.
What a mess
It seems the inability for Northern Railway’s management to get a grip of situations, communicate with staff and union as well as being let down by Network Rail (for the rail infrastructure) and CAF (for failing to deliver rolling stock on time) have helped put the nails in Northern Rail by Arriva coffin.
And in the middle of this – is the passenger, who waits for their train, or is stuck on a platform, in a train that should be retried or waiting for a rail replacement bus service.
And changes won’t come overnight
The OLR will have its work cut out as it tries to deliver the new promises. And for those thinking a new set of management will change how Northern Trains will operate overnight – that every train is on time, that all the new trains are switched on and that all the maintenance work will be completed on the 1st March have their head in the sky.
It’s going to take months to commission new trains, move trains around the network, gain union agreements and persuade Network Rail to carry out the required work.
For Northern’s passengers, waiting is the only thing that can be done for now – and hope for the improvements to be delivered.
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