Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced that the Government will take over running services on the Northern rail network from 1 March.
The rail services will be taken over by the public-sector operator - the so-called operator of last resort - which already owns and oversees the East Coast franchise, which is brands as London North Eastern Railway.
The news comes after widespread frustration over the level of service provided by the railway operator, however, Mr Shapps acknowledged that many of its problems are ‘infrastructure-related’ and so more in the hands of the public sector body Network Rail, as well as strike action.
The Department for Transport said the Government recognises that the rail network in the North has fallen far short of delivering the service passengers need and deserve.
Mr Shapps said: ‘This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning.
'Northern's network is huge and complex and some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right. But I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.
‘Today marks the first small step towards the North taking back control of its railways and its people taking back control of their travelling lives.'
Chris Burchell, managing director of Arriva UK Trains, which operates the Northern franchise, said the company’s plan for the franchise had become undeliverable, ‘largely because of external factors’.
He said: ‘We had a clear vision for the Northern franchise that would better connect the cities of the North with more frequent, reliable and modern services and unlock economic growth.
'A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services. As such, we understand Government’s decision today.’
He added: ‘The scale of the challenges we faced outside of our direct control were unprecedented, particularly around delayed or cancelled infrastructure projects and prolonged strike action.’
The DfT said the Government is ‘committed to delivering real and tangible improvements across the network as quickly as possible’ and will introduce a series of measures including;
- Introducing a number of electric trains from elsewhere on the network, boosting capacity for commuters into Manchester and Leeds
- Lengthening platforms at 30 stations by the spring, in addition to the 30 already completed, to accommodate longer trains
- All existing trains will be deep-cleaned and the approach to cleaning reviewed to ensure passengers experience the service they deserve from the first train to the last
- Building on the recent agreement with ASLEF and improving the reliability of Sunday services
However the Government did not provide any funding details for its investment in the line.
Officials said the Government also ‘recognises the scale of the challenge ahead’, pointing out that the Northern network carries over 108 million passenger journeys a year on 2,800 daily services, calling at 528 stations.
Mr Shapps has asked Robin Gisby and Richard George, who lead the public-sector operator, to prepare a plan in their first 100 days.
This will be ‘a top to bottom review of everything from operational management, to rostering patterns and, most critically, customer experience, to make sure we leave no stone unturned in improving this franchise for passengers’.
It will also include setting up a cross-industry task force to deliver recommendations for improving capacity and performance. Management will also sit down with Network Rail to 'build a comprehensive new masterplan to review congestion around Manchester'.
The DfT also responded to recent comments from sub-national transport body Transport for the North about inadequate rail infrastructure in the region, stating that ‘many of Northern’s problems are infrastructure-related’.
However, the Government made no commitment to carry out any of the improvements demanded by local politicians, stating that it is ‘continuing to assess the Castlefield Corridor, as well as key junctions and interactions across the wider network to develop a series of interventions which will actually deliver the improvements required’.
‘Further interventions around Leeds will also be considered,’ officials added.