The Northern rail franchise will only be able to continue for “a number of months”, transport secretary Grant Shapps said, and a decision on its future will be taken by the end of January.
Shapps said in a parliamentary statement to the House of Commons on Thursday: “Passengers in the North have had to put up with unacceptable services for too long. We understand how frustrating this has been for people and we are taking action to make sure that performance improves. I intend to announce my decision before the end of January 2020.”
Shapps had told BBC Breakfast that the process had begun to strip Northern of its rail franchise to German-owned Arriva following years of poor performance.
He is now considering whether to award a short-term management contract to Arriva to continue running the service, or to nationalise the franchise as a last resort.
The decision to award a short-term contract to Arriva would be a contentious one, according to Transport for the North’s strategic rail director, David Hoggarth.
He said: “The North’s leaders have said that a direct award to Northern, even on a short-term contract basis, is likely to be seen by rail users as a reward for failure.
“We’ve been clear that putting an ‘operator of last resort’ [to nationalise the service] in place of Northern would be the only way to rebuild trust and confidence, and secure the right outcome for passengers.”
Shapps’ announcement means that passengers “can get the chance of a fresh start”, he added. “We welcome the clear timeline for a decision to be made by the end of January.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also supported Shapps’s statement, saying he was “pleased” with the government’s decision to strip Northern of their franchise but said that it would be “unacceptable” to award it a new short-term contract.
Burnham said: “Leaders across the North stand ready to work with Government to develop a solution that delivers for passengers. How can it be right to reward an operator that has singularly failed to deliver an acceptable train service?
“Finally we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I urge the Transport Secretary to do the right thing for the travelling public in the North when he makes his decision at the end of the month.”