Northern rail services under public control after years of ‘privatised chaos’

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Rail services on the Northern rail network have been taken under public control following years of poor performance.

The Government’s Operator of Last Resort (OLR) took over from Arriva-owned Northern on 1 March.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the aim of the change is to provide services that passengers can “truly rely on”.

A campaign demanding that the operation of Northern Trains services remains in public hands will be launched by rail union RMT, passenger groups and politicians on 2 March.

Demonstrations will be held at stations across northern England to send a message to the Government that the private franchise model is “broken” and must be replaced by an integrated, publicly owned railway from top to bottom.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.”

Kate Anstee, of passenger group Northern Resist, told the PA news agency: “We welcome Northern being finally taken into public ownership, but we hope the Government doesn’t sell it off at the first possible opportunity.”

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Northern received the lowest overall score of all train companies in the latest major survey by watchdog Transport Focus.

Just 72% of passengers were satisfied with their journey.

Office of Rail and Road figures show only 55% of Northern trains arrived at stations within one minute of the timetable in the 12 months to February 1, compared with the average across Britain of 65%.

The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 saw hundreds of Northern trains cancelled each day.

The OLR is running services through its subsidiary Northern Trains.

A panel created to advise the operator includes Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, passenger representatives and rail industry bosses.

It will be led by Richard George, chairman of the public sector operator.

The Department for Transport said overcrowding will be a “priority focus for improvement”.

It plans to extend platforms at 30 stations to accommodate longer trains, and is trialling new technology to identify crowding pinch points.

Shapps said: “This is a new era for rail in the North, but there will be no quick fix for the network as we build solutions for the future.

“Today marks the beginning of rebuilding of trust in these services, and voices from the region will be essential as we work together to understand and deliver the improvements passengers need.”

George said Northern Trains must improve performance, and make passengers and political leaders confident that “their concerns are being addressed”.

RAIL Northern
(PA Graphics)

Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said travellers have suffered “years of misery” as he called for “much-needed investment in infrastructure”.

Northern was Britain’s fifth-biggest rail operator based on passenger journeys.

It began operating in April 2016 and was awarded the franchise until March 2025, but Shapps announced in January that its contract would be ended five years early.

Chris Burchell, managing director of Arriva’s UK Trains division, has described the franchise as “undeliverable”, insisting this was “largely because of external factors”.

Problems faced by the firm included cancelled infrastructure projects, delays in the delivery of new trains and prolonged industrial action.

The OLR has operated services on the East Coast Main Line as London North Eastern Railway since June 2018, following the failure of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise.

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