DfT takes control of Northern rail franchise

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
30 January 2020

The UK government has announced it will take over the running of the Northern rail franchise from operator Arriva.

The government said services had “fallen far short of delivering the service passengers need and deserve” and from 1 March managers in the Department for Transport (DfT) would take over services.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said a number of improvements would be made including bringing in electric trains from elsewhere on the network, lengthening platforms, and working the union ASLEF to improve the reliability of Sunday services.

Independent watchdog Transport Focus said its latest survey showed Northern Rail was the worst-performing train operator, with 72% of passengers satisfied with services.

Director David Sidebottom said: “The rail industry must listen to passengers and communicate its plan to improve services and rebuild trust.”

There have been ongoing problems with rail franchises, with the DfT warning earlier this month that South Western Railway was at risk of having its franchise transferred to a public sector operator. The Abellio ScotRail contract will be ending three years early, while the bidding process to operate the South Eastern franchise was cancelled in August 2019. In 2019 Stagecoach was excluded from competitions to run services after submitting “non-compliant bids”.

A review of rail services in the UK, chaired by Royal Mail chairman Keith Williams, is currently underway.

Shapps said: “It is clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver. Across the country a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require. We know change is needed, and it is coming. The Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure customers are at the heart of the system.”

Chris Burchell, Arriva managing director of UK trains, 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. It was clear however that, largely because of external factors, the franchise plan had become undeliverable. A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services. As such, we understand government’s decision today.”

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