Northern hits back after Mayors call to axe franchise

Rail firm chiefs have hit back after calls to axe the franchise.

Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 11:26 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 12:26 pm
Northern has hit back after calls to axe the franchise

Northern has responded to calls from Mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region, who this morning said that "enough is enough" and that the franchise must be terminated 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.

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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.

Rail union RMT has also 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.

Northern today admitted to mistakes, apologised for failings but then hit back at further criticism, saying that services were improving and listing successes.

MD David Brown said: “We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve the performance and reliability for customers.

“The unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change was caused by delays in infrastructure projects out of our control. We have apologised to our customers for the pain this caused. We have seen two successful timetable changes since then, introducing many more new services.

“Since last year, we have made a large number of improvements for customers – including better punctuality, investment in new and refurbished trains, over 2,000 new services and hundreds more people employed to help customers.

“These improvements are still a work in progress – but we are making things better for our customers. We want and expect things to continue to improve.”

The firm then listed “Northern Facts”:

Almost nine out of 10 Northern services are now arriving within five minutes of scheduled time. Cancellations are dramatically down since May 2018;

Since the start of its franchise in 2016, it is now running 2,000 extra train services per week;

It is starting to introduce 101 brand new trains from this summer and refurbishing the rest of the fleet to a very high standard;

As it renews its fleet, Pacers will begin to retire from service, significantly improving service quality for customers;

It is working constructively and positively with colleagues to find solutions to improving performance on Sundays;

It has seen a significant fall in complaints;

It is now leader in new, flexible Smart Ticketing

It has hired hundreds of extra people since our franchise began – and are adding more customer facing roles.

The DfT said Northern was investing £500m in new rolling stock - some of which will start to be rolled out this summer - with all other trains ‘refurbished’.

Pointing to new services between Chester and Leeds, Sheffield and Gainsborough and both Blackpool North and Preston to Manchester, the DfT said Northern’s punctuality had improved almost to the national average, although it did not reference the thousands of ‘shortformed’ trains that have been adding to overcrowding.

The department said it ‘monitors all franchises to ensure they deliver on their commitments and where a franchise is found to be at fault we will not hesitate to take appropriate action’.

A spokesman said: “We have seen much needed improvements in Northern services since last year, with industry expert Richard George driving forward a recovery plan focused on reliable services.

“Alongside Transport for the North, who co-manage the franchise, our absolute priority is delivering the services that passengers expect and deserve.

“At a time when performance is improving and brand-new trains are being rolled out to replace the unpopular and dated Pacers, change could result in significant disruption.

“We see no reason at this stage to consider making changes to the franchise.”