The Mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region have called on the Transport Secretary to terminate Northern’s rail franchise as soon as possible, 12 months on from last May’s chaotic timetable change.
A joint statement from Manchester’s Andy Burnham and Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram highlighted that over the past 12 months 18.5% of Northern services arrived late and 4% were cancelled or significantly late. They said they believed “Northern has consistently failed to show they are able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver their legally-binding franchise requirements.”
The Mayors are urging the Department of Transport to implement an Operator of Last Resort, and bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible. They have also called for a commitment from the Government to provide resources to ensure all existing franchise commitments are delivered, including the introduction of new rolling stock, if an Operator of Last Resort was appointed.
An increase in shortformed services, failure to resolve the RMT industrial dispute, cancelled Sunday services, and a failure to replace Pacer trains were all highlighted by the Mayors as reasons for stripping Northern of its franchise.
In response, David Brown, managing director at Northern, said: “We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve the performance and reliability for customers.
“The unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change was caused by delays in infrastructure projects out of our control. We have apologised to our customers for the pain this caused. We have seen two successful timetable changes since then, introducing many more new services.
“Since last year, we have made a large number of improvements for customers – including better punctuality, investment in new and refurbished trains, over 2,000 new services and hundreds more people employed to help customers.
“These improvements are still a work in progress – but we are making things better for our customers. We want and expect things to continue to improve.”
Burnham said: “We have been extremely patient with Northern but enough is enough. They promised us that things would be significantly better by May 2019 and that hasn’t happened. Train services across Greater Manchester and the North West remain unreliable and over-crowded. Sunday services are still subject to widespread cancellation and promises of new rolling stock have not been kept.
“The people of Greater Manchester deserve much better than this. That’s why, together with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, I am calling on the Transport Secretary to strip Arriva Rail North of this franchise and stabilise the franchise under the control of the Government. It is only through taking this action that we can restore the trust of the public and deliver a rail network that finally works for its passengers.”
Rotheram, said: “Given Northern’s consistent failure to provide an acceptable service we believe it is now time for Chris Grayling to terminate their franchise and move to that operator of last resort, as soon as possible.
“Stripping Northern of their franchise will not solve all of the issues with our railways – the problems go far beyond just them – but it would be an important signal that the North is no longer prepared to put up with a second class service and a first step towards building the rail network that passengers deserve.”