Northern is to have its rail franchise to Arriva removed following years of poor performance, the transport secretary Grant Shapps has said.
Shapps described Northern’s rail service as “completely unacceptable” and said a process has started that could strip the firm of its franchise to operate the rail network between Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull.
“In the autumn I wrote to the necessary parties with what’s called a request for proposal,” he told BBC Breakfast on Thursday.
“And that’s simply where you take action. There are a couple of ways that can go. But one is to strip a franchise, one is to have a short-term contract. But…I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action.”
His comments follow a year of poor performance across the network, with repeated delays and cancellations on routes across the North West and beyond. It has caused outrage among commuters, which face an average 2.7% increase in fares from Tuesday.
Shapps told the Commons transport select committee in October that the first steps had been taken towards placing the Northern rail network back into public hands.
He said he had asked the Northern franchisee, German-owned Arriva, to draw up proposals to improve the service.
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said in a statement today: “For 18 months, [Manchester mayor] Andy Burnham and I have been calling on the government to get to grips with of the chaos on the railways of the North and remove the franchise from Northern.
“Today’s announcement from the Transport Secretary that he is belatedly going to take some action will be welcomed by passengers, however it is still unclear what this means in practice. This is not good enough.
“Passengers and staff need clarity, so the Secretary of State should urgently explain his statement and set out a clear plan as to how he will bring back stability to our railways.” Rotheram also urged the government to cancel the planned fare rises.
Andy Burnham said: “The Transport Secretary’s comments are welcome and I stand ready to work with him to develop a solution that works for passengers. But I am concerned that he has left on the table the possibility of Northern having a different form of contract. That would be a reward for failure and completely unacceptable to us. I call on the government to rule it out, put our rail services under public control and work with us towards Greater Manchester taking devolved control.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of rail union RMT, added: “Grant Shapps is big on talk about Northern Rail this morning but short on detail and this has all the hallmarks of a dead cat being slung on the table to distract from the fare rise scandal.
“If Shapps was serious, he would set out a timetable for removing the Northern Rail franchise from Arriva and their replacement with the public sector operator.”
Cash said he was seeking a meeting with Shapps to obtain more information about the plans.
Northern and Arriva had yet to respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.