Rail update Northern franchise

Andrew Cummings
January 12, 2020

The cabinet minister announced he was now evaluating a proposal from the train operator on options for continuing its franchise.

Grant Shapps has also confirmed that using the most recent financial information that the Northern franchise will only be able to continue for a number of months.

Following a proposal from the troubled train operator on options for continuing its franchise, Shapps announced that he will decide whether current operator Arriva Rail North (ARN) will be given a short-term contract.

Attending the meeting on behalf of Mr Shapps, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris reportedly said that the transport secretary "understands the need for investment in Manchester bottleneck that is delaying trains" and that consideration of the process to consider the Northern franchise "is nearing completion and could be a matter of weeks away".

The decision will be based on four factors: protecting the interests of passengers, ensuring business and service continuity, preserving the interests of taxpayers by ensuring value for money, and the continued quality of the franchise proposition.

"Northern are introducing thousands of new services and more than 100 new trains on their routes but the ongoing performance issues indicate that there are deeper issues that will not be addressed by a change of ownership".

Longer-term decisions on the future of the franchise will be influenced by the soon-to-be published Williams Rail Review, an inquiry that has recommended a complete overhaul of the rail franchising system.

"When the franchise plan was developed, assumptions were made that critical infrastructure projects would be deployed to enable growth and support capacity requirements".

RAIL unions called on the government today to stop companies "bleeding Britain's railways dry" and nationalise the system following news that chaotic Northern Rail could be stripped of its franchise.

"Many of them were either postponed or canceled".

In a written statement, issued before a planned visit to Leeds today, Mr Shapps said: "Passengers in the north have had to put up with unacceptable services for too long". This, along with unprecedented levels of strike action, has had a significant impact on the franchise - both in terms of service and financial performance.

Transport for the North's strategic rail director David Hoggarth is hoping for "the chance of a fresh start".

"We welcome the clear timeline for a decision to be made by the end of January. They, and we, have been calling for the restoration of reliable rail services across the network for nearly two years now".

After years of misery for passengers, the operator's finances are the problem now. "This would be completely unacceptable", he said.

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