Northern to be put into public ownership

Troubled rail firm Northern is to be brought under government control from 1 March, after months of disruption.

It means the firm's franchise will be stripped from operator Arriva Rail North and will be nationalised. 

This affects services from Hadfield and Glossop to Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton, Manchester Piccadilly to New Mills Central, and Manchester Piccadilly/Victoria to Stalybridge.  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says Northern will be run by the operator of last resort, which is owned by the government.

A new company was registered with Companies House ahead of the announcement. The franchise name was changed to Northern Trains and operated by the Department for Transport.

Mr Shapps said it was a "new beginning" for Northern, whose long-suffering passengers have faced chaos since new timetables were introduced in 2018.

The government has previously described the delays and cancellations as "unacceptable".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon: "It’s no surprise that passengers have lost trust in the North’s rail network.

"The service provided by the rail network in the north has failed to meet the needs of passengers.

"I am announcing today that from 1 March the Northern Rail franchise will be taken into public ownership and the government will begin operating services through the public-sector operator - the so-called operator of last resort."

Confirming the news, Northern said in a statement: "We can confirm that today the Secretary of State has announced that the operation of all Northern services will transfer from Arriva Rail North to Northern Trains Limited, a subsidiary of DfT OLR Holdings Limited (DOHL). 

"All Arriva Rail North passengers, employees and suppliers can expect operations to continue during the transfer period." 

Chris Burchell, UK trains managing director at Arriva, 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.

“I would like to recognise the hard work of the 6,000 strong team at Northern who have worked tirelessly over the last four years to deliver improvements to local rail services in the North, at times under extremely difficult conditions.

“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.  Despite the challenges, the team has introduced brand new trains onto the network for the first time in a generation. They have introduced more than 2,000 extra services per week, refurbished trains and stations, and created hundreds of new customer-facing jobs as part of a £600 million investment programme for the North.

“We recognise however that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better. For that, we wholeheartedly apologise. We now stand ready to support Government and the Operator of Last Resort to ensure a smooth transfer for our passengers and colleagues alike.

“I am confident that as a result of the determination and hard work of the Northern rail team, they have helped set strong foundations for future improvement on the network.”

Mick Cash, General Secretary of Britain's largest rail union RMT, said: “Northern has become a signal for everything that is wrong on Britain's broken, privatised railways and the fact that the Government have now been forced to take this action today will open the floodgates towards wholesale public ownership of our railways as other franchises fall like dominoes or simply choose to cut and run in the face of the inevitable.

“The return of Northern to the public domain, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short term fix and a holding operation pending another punt on another bunch of private speculators. 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.

“RMT will take whatever action is required to protect our members, their jobs and their conditions, caught in the crossfire of the rail franchise meltdown and the union will now be stepping up the campaign for the whole industry to now be brought back together ‎as an integrated, national public service shaking off the grim legacy of 25 years of private profiteering.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham and Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said: "Today’s news is a victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern Rail.

“We are pleased the government has finally answered our call and returned the Northern franchise to public ownership.  But today’s welcome move by ministers is only the start of fixing the North’s railways.

“The Government must now commit to investing in much-needed rail infrastructure and work with leaders across the North to deliver the vision and funding needed to build the modern transport network that the people of our region deserve.”

High Peak MP Robert Largan said: "This is something I have been pushing for since my election, lobbying Ministers to take action against a failing franchise, which has let commuters down again and again.

"This is a vital step to sort out our train services and I am really pleased the Government has listened to local people. But franchising is only part of the problem. If we are going to get the train services we deserve, we need to deliver the infrastructure investment in our railways that governments of all parties have failed to invest in over the last few decades."

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