The Government has taken control of rail services across the North, a month after transport secretary Grant Shapps stripped Northern of its franchise, and will pursue an “ambitious plan” to improve the ailing network with the help of an advisory panel of local leaders.
The panel, which includes Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, will be led by Richard George, chairman of the Government’s ‘operator of last resort’, and former transport director for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games 2012.
The panel is tasked with devising and overseeing improvements to the network, whose passengers have suffered repeated delays to services in the past two years.
A statement from the Department for Transport said that some improvement works are already in the pipeline. They include a “major deep cleaning programme” and extending platforms at 30 stations across the network to allow for longer trains to reduce congestion, an issue described as a “priority focus for improvement”.
The decision to strip Northern of its franchise to German-owned Arriva and renationalise the network was met with widespread approval by local leaders. Burnham and mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotheram, hailing it as a “victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern Rail”.
Shapps said: “Today marks the beginning of rebuilding of trust in these services, and voices from the region will be essential as we work together to understand and deliver the improvements passengers need.
“Our aim is to give the North of England more powers over its railways, restoring the confidence of passengers and delivering a network it can truly rely on.”
George said: “The panel announced today will play a crucial strategic role as we look to transform services across Northern’s network.
“By collaborating with local leaders, we’re taking a step towards reconnecting the railways with the people of the North. We need to improve performance and also provide passengers and their elected representatives with the confidence that their concerns are being addressed.”