Thought leadership

Troubled rail company Northern is to be brought under government control. The decision, which will see the firm’s franchise stripped from operator Arriva Rail North from 1 March, was taken following years of major disruption.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said passengers had “lost trust in the north’s rail network”. Arriva said it “understood the government’s decision”, but problems had been largely due to “external factors” such as rail infrastructure.

Mr Shapps said: “People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.”

The move means services will be operated by an arms-length public company reporting directly to the government and staffed by experienced train managers.

Northern passengers have faced rail chaos ever since new timetables were introduced in May 2018.

The revised schedules caused hundreds of trains a day to be cancelled, and punctuality and reliability problems have continued to blight the network.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union ASLEF, welcomed the move.

But he warned: “There won’t be an immediate improvement because many of the systemic failures at Northern – the late delivery of new rolling stock, the cancellation by the Conservative government of infrastructure upgrades, trying to run a service with too few drivers – cannot be remedied overnight.”

German-based Arriva had been due to run Northern until March 2025. But Mr Shapps revealed in October he had requested a proposal from Northern to outline its plans to improve services.

The Department for Transport was then due to consider whether to hand a new, short-term contract to Arriva, or to nationalise services by putting the government-controlled Operator of Last Resort in charge. The government previously described the delays and cancellations as “unacceptable”.

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