The performance of railway provider Northern Rail is now “so poor” that the time has come for an official investigation to establish whether it is breaching its license to operate, according to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.
Burnham has issued a strong statement via the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, saying that since the start of the year, he has been “bombarded” with complaints about Northern’s service from commuters.
“Recognising that their patience has run out, Andy’s intervention follows weeks of disruption for travellers using the rail network across the city-region, including frequent delays, last-minute cancellations and often dangerously overcrowded on-board conditions”, the statement says.
The Mayor has written to Transport for the North highlighting a series of missed deadlines and examples of serial poor performance, which he says has made travelling by train “a misery for many”.
In questioning whether Northern’s recent record has resulted in the operator breaching the terms of its franchise, the Mayor highlighted “an unacceptably poor service in recent weeks”.
Burnham said: “Enough is enough. Northern Rail passengers, the people of Greater Manchester, deserve so much better than the dire service they have been forced to endure in recent months.
“I am calling for TfN formally to assess whether Northern is in breach of its franchise agreement.”
In his letter to John Cridland, chairman of TfN, the Mayor sets out the causes of his frustration and calls for action.
“I believe Transport for the North should now consider escalating its response and assess whether Northern are in breach of the performance targets as set out in its franchise agreement.
“I would also be grateful if you could set out what actions can be taken by Transport for the North should it be determined that Northern are in breach.”
In November the Mayor wrote to Northern and described the situation as “completely unacceptable.” Last month, in further correspondence with Northern, Network Rail and the Secretary of State for Transport, Burnham called for immediate action to be taken to improve services.
The GMCA said data shows that Northern has recently missed its targets for delays and cancelled services, including double the number of anticipated cancellations during March. Northern Rail has also failed to deliver on public commitments, such as promises to increase trains per hour around Greater Manchester locations, new route options, refurbished trains, and enhanced Sunday timetables.
Burnham’s increased pressure on Northern Rail comes despite responses from both Northern Rail and Network Rail last week. In a letter to Burnham from Northern Rail managing director David Brown, also formerly chief executive of TfN, said the company apologies for the higher than normal cancellations and delays, saying “disappointing customers is not something we’re happy with”. Particular issues centred around delays to work on the Blackpool line, which impacted driver training, but Brown said “lessons have been learnt”. However, he also pointed to Network Rail’s announcement in January that it was delaying electrification as an additional issue.
In a response from Network Rail, managing director Martin Frobisher highlighted issues such as poor weather at the end of February, and the collapse of Carillion, as impacting some projects, particularly work to the Manchester-Preston line.
A Transport for the North spokesperson said: “We note the concerns in relation to current performance of Northern (Arriva Rail North) train services in the Greater Manchester area, and in other parts of the North West.
“We have already formally raised concerns with Northern on behalf of Transport for the North’s members and rail passengers. We recognise the difficulties and frustrations faced by rail users because of these issues and we have written to Northern and asked, as a matter of urgency, to see an Improvement Plan. We will be investigating the points raised by Manchester’s Metro Mayor and will respond to him in full.”