Transport Secretary threatens to strip Northern Rail of its franchise after "unacceptable" performance

Grant Shapps slated the rail provider earlier today, coinciding with the increase in ticket prices.

Customer dissatisfaction has been rapidly growing since summer 2018 and the Transport Secretary alluded that the train operator will lose its franchise if their service does not improve.

Halifax train station.

Halifax train station.

“I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Mr Shapps also said that it is "completely unacceptable" for trains to be "routinely late" and that he "simply will not put up with that."

The rail provider has not officially lost its franchise yet, however Mr Shapps announced to parliament last autumn that he has began to look for a new provider for the Northern Franchise.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “As the Transport Secretary said, he has started a process which would either strip Northern of its franchise or issue a short-term contract to them.

“We are taking action to ensure passengers in the North get a better service and we will provide an update in due course.”

The Department for Transport also stated that they "are now carrying out detailed analysis of the two options; a direct award to the operator or appointing an Operator of Last Resort."

They say that they "will take a decision based on the best outcome for passengers and taxpayers" and "that they also clear that the outcome must be compatible with the recommendations of the Williams’ Review and focused on putting passengers first."

The Northern Network is operated by Arriva Rail North, which is owned by German company Deutsche Bahn. It provides transport from Nottingham to Northumberland and from Stoke-on-Trent to Carlisle.

Over the 2019 Christmas period, Northern made hundreds of cancellations due to alleged “unprecedented levels of staff sickness”.

As well as increasing rail fares by 2.7 per cent, the operator has already cancelled dozens of services including Carlisle to Morpeth and Blackpool North to York.

David Brown, Managing Director at Northern, said: “It’s on record that the Northern franchise has faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the past couple of years, outside the direct control of Northern. The most significant of these is the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades.

“The North West electrification was more than two years late, which meant we could not use electric trains on that route or cascade diesel trains from that route to run more services elsewhere on our network. More recently, new and longer platforms at Leeds stations are delayed, which means we have had to postpone our plans to run longer trains.

“These factors – alongside the damage caused by strike action and lower than expected economic growth – have had a significant effect on the revenue expected in our original franchise business plan agreed with government back in 2015.

“That’s why the Government has asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’ which will see the completion of our transformation programme.”

Mr Brown added: “Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving customers’ experience. We are delivering the biggest transformation of local rail for a generation, with 52 of our 101 new trains in service and driver training taking place on dozens more trains right now. Alongside 2,000 extra services per week, this is part of a £600 million investment in improving customers’ experience; we are continuing to invest in better stations, better offers for customers and more recruitment.

“These discussions have no impact on rail services for customers. Our job is to continue to provide the best service possible for our customers whilst any discussions are taking place.”

Calderdale commuters have shared their frustration with Northern's service.

Peter Lister from Hipperholme in Halifax said: "The service is generally pretty poor with a lot of delays and cancellations. There needs to be more pressure put on them to improve."

Hebden Bridge resident David Wingall commented: "You can't rely on their service. We're travelling to London today and came a lot earlier than we needed to because we anticipated problems, and the train we wanted to get has been cancelled. You have to allow so much extra time for error that it makes travelling by train really inefficient."