Mayors call for Northern's rail franchise to be axed

Two mayors are calling for Northern to be axed
Two mayors are calling for Northern to be axed

The Mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region have called for Northern's rail franchise to be axed as soon as possible.


Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram made the call to the Secretary for Transport, a year on from last May’s rail timetable chaos.

They say Northern has consistently failed to show they are able to take the actions required to restore public confidence or deliver their legally-binding franchise requirements.

These include:

Failure to deliver a significant and sustained improvement in performance – with nearly a fifth of all services arriving late, 28,000 services cancelled, and a huge increase in services being “shortformed” (ie reducing the number of carriages on the train) from 2,825 in December 2018 to 4,172 in April 2019

Failure to resolve the RMT industrial dispute - which has seen 46 days of strike action

Failure to operate Sunday services – last Sunday alone there were 165 unplanned cancellations on top of 90 planned cancellations

Failure to introduce new trains – which means the hated Pacer trains may not be gone by the end of the year as promised

Failure to deliver new services – such as a range of promised additional hourly services in much-needed parts of the network

The Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region Mayors are now urging the Department of Transport to implement an ‘Operator of Last Resort’ and bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible.

The Department of Transport has a legal duty to provide an Operator of Last Resort to ensure continuity of passenger services, in the event of a franchise failure.

The Mayors have called for a commitment from the Government to provide resources to ensure all existing franchise commitments are delivered, including the introduction of new rolling stock, in the event of an Operator of Last Resort being appointed.

They have emphasised that the rights of Northern staff must be protected under these new arrangements.

Both Mr Burnham and Mr Rotherham were clear that Northern staff have had to work under difficult circumstances and have shown dedication and professionalism despite management failings over the last twelve months.

Mr Burnham said: “We have been extremely patient with Northern but enough is enough. They promised us that things would be significantly better by May 2019 and that hasn’t happened. Train services across Greater Manchester and the North West remain unreliable and over-crowded. Sunday services are still subject to widespread cancellation and promises of new rolling stock have not been kept.

“The people of Greater Manchester deserve much better than this. That’s why, together with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, I am calling on the Transport Secretary to strip Arriva Rail North of this franchise and stabilise the franchise under the control of the Government.

"It is only through taking this action that we can restore the trust of the public and deliver a rail network that finally works for its passengers.

“We wish to make clear that we do not blame the staff of Northern who have worked hard over the last year in very difficult circumstances. We believe they, and the travelling public, have been let down by Northern’s management who have had plenty of opportunity to show how they will meet franchise requirements but have failed to do so.”

Mayor of Liverpool City Region, Mr Rotheram, said: “For too long the people of the Liverpool City Region and the whole of the North have been forced to accept rail services that are simply not good enough. Whether it’s frequent cancellations, short forming of trains or late arrivals Northern’s board have repeatedly failed to deliver on their franchise obligations.

“Given Northern’s consistent failure to provide an acceptable service we believe it is now time for Chris Grayling to terminate their franchise and move to that operator of last resort, as soon as possible.

“Stripping Northern of their franchise will not solve all of the issues with our railways – the problems go far beyond just them - but it would be an important signal that the North is no longer prepared to put up with a second class service and a first step towards building the rail network that passengers deserve.”

More broadly, the two Mayors are calling on the Government to work with Transport for the North, Transport for Greater Manchester and Merseytravel, to work towards a new vision for rail in the North of England that puts passengers first.

Ministers should keep all options on the table, including further devolution to the North and the option of public operation.

Rail union RMT has welcomed the call.

General secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT welcomes this decisive move by by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram and there should now be a swift transition of the Northern routes into a public sector operation. There can be no excuses for any delay.

“RMT will be seeking immediate assurances that the jobs, conditions and pensions of our members will be protected once Arriva are finally kicked off the Northern routes. The union will also expect to see an end of outsourcing of support functions and an absolute commitment to safety and the guard guarantee.

“Any attempt by Chris Grayling and the DfT to sabotage the clear wishes of the democratically elected representatives across the North will spark a furious political backlash. For Arriva Rail North the game is up."