Strong words as Burnham calls for Northern Rail investigation

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.”

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Well done Andy B. I use local rail most days and it’s unbelievably bad for a city region that prides itself as being world class. Manchester as a city is doing so well yet our transport system is still so antiquated.

By Graham Barrington

How can you tell if Northern Rail is on strike? Answer: You can’t

By Ray Makin

About time something was said! About two months ago I started to drive into Manchester rather than get the train because it had gotten so bad. Delays, cancellations, strikes, archaic and obsolete carriages, awful facilities at stations – I’d rather spend the extra £5 per day and drive into the city in the same amount of time or faster than give my money to N**thern Ra*l

By Anonymous

At last someone is standing up for the thousands forced to endure Northern Rail’s overcrowded bins on wheels. How can the same service have three carriages one day and two the next. In recent months passengers are being taken ill due to overcrowding on a weekly basis. Northern in its entirety is a complete shambles, from the ticket offices where staff direct you to use the automated ticket machines to the much vaunted ticket barriers that are so useless at reading season tickets and passes that they now have to be manned to let commuters through. It really is beggars belief that these ‘improvements’ were trumpeted as precursors to a much broader suite of improvements (including iPads for train crew…!) to the franchise’s operation. The rolling stock should have been condemned decades ago yet ticket prices increase year on year without fail. The strike action on basis guards will no longer be needed in future is a joke too – I haven’t had my ticket checked whilst on board a train for about three months. I’ve been on the train when travellers have joined a service from the airport and the calibre of train is actually an embarrassment. Not to stop there – the website is a farce too, with the delay repay application process unable to support a photograph taken of a ticket on a smartphone due to the size of the image file. It’s as if they wanted to make it as difficult as possible to claim a refund…

By Anonymous

Northern are a disaster and have been for many many years in GM. Well said Andy. In fact they are so poor that I have stopped using the train it is so unreliable from south Manchester. The free market is a fantastic thing when it works but Northern are a flashing neon lights version of what happens when the market fails.

By nimby

Hypocrite Burnham strikes again!. Why did he ignore the hundred or so communications from doctors, nurses and victims families for and investigation and or inquiry into the high fatality rates at Mid Staffs Hospital while he was Health Secretary. He ignored all calls for inquiries while a Minister so why should we take any notice of him crying wolf time and time again since leaving office?.

By DavidM

On a side note I feel having a mayor has so far proven very useful to channel the cities concerns and issues to a central point who can then lobby on behalf of the city. whatever you’re opinion of Burnham his efforts so far I feel have been fantastic, they are “real” issues for people many of which he goes through himself.

By Pineapple Chunks

There is no way this situation is going to improve until our Southern governments start spending real money outside the South East.You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Grayling keeps avoiding the issues,but the pathetic investment over decades has caused this situation. Burnham can only speak for GM not the whole of the North. Once those trains go beyond Greenfield he has no power or influence in West Yorkshire.

By Elephant

About time someone said something, but doubt anything will change. Service and rolling stock is an embarrassment and has been for years. Many promised improvements have not materialised.

By A local

About time, well done. Their train services are a complete shambles..

By Adam Ash

Thank goodness someone is doing something. I commute to Manchester 3 days a week and every day the trains are delayed, cancelled or both. The journey home is the worst. A cancelled train means the next one is dangerously crowded. On hot days it is a nightmare. God knows what would happen if someone was taken ill. We are fed up of constant apologies. Action needs to be taken

By Susan Brackenridge

I complained about the awful impact of the new timetable on working parents who need to drop kids before commuting or be back in time to pick them up. Guess what, they didn’t even bother to respond. Every day this week one of the key commuting trains has been cancelled. Two carriages instead of 4. Late arrivals. It’s almost impossible to commute into Manchester and complete the necessary hours in the office if you are constrained by childcare.

By Yardsticks

An absolute shower of a train operating company. Strikes, cancelled services, never on time, and aggressive rude staff. They make British Rail look efficient, enough is enough

By Matthew Crimes

It’s not just Manchester , it’s service from people further afield. Preston to Manchester and airport alike is shocking. It tool me 6.5 hours to get back to Preston from Manchester Airport with Northern Rail who eventually laid on buses which had us stood out in sub zero temperatures for an hour. The flight back from Palma was quicker by more than half. Still waiting for a refund which I doubt I’ll ever see. Trains that don’t appear and have to wait an hour for the following one…the list goes one.

By Beth Balshaw

Automate all rail staff!!

By Commuter

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