/Government will take Northern Rail back into public ownership after months of disruption

Government will take Northern Rail back into public ownership after months of disruption

Northern Rail will be brought into public ownership following months of disruption, transport Minister Grant Shapps confirmed today.

The Arriva-run railway, which carries 101million passengers per year, has been stripped of its franchise and effectively renationalised following delays, cancellations and strikes.

Transport minister Grant Shapps said in a written statement that a public sector operator would take over the running of the railway contract from March 1.

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Shapps said he wanted ‘real and tangible’ improvements for passengers on Northern’s routes.

He said: ‘I am announcing today that from 1 March the Northern Rail franchise will be taken into public ownership and the Government will begin operating services through the public sector operator – the so-called operator of last resort.

‘The public sector operator is a company entirely owned by my department and run by experienced railway managers. 

Transport minister Grant Shapps said in a written statement on Wednesday that a public-sector operator would take over the running of the railway contract from March 1

Transport minister Grant Shapps said in a written statement on Wednesday that a public-sector operator would take over the running of the railway contract from March 1

Transport minister Grant Shapps said in a written statement on Wednesday that a public-sector operator would take over the running of the railway contract from March 1 

‘It already owns and oversee another franchise, East Coast, which it brands as London North Eastern Railway. Passenger satisfaction has risen in the nineteen months it has been operating the service.

‘This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning. Northern’s network is huge and complex, some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right.

‘Nonetheless, I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.’

Fat cat rail bosses are handed huge pay rises despite another year of fare hikes and delays  

Manfred Rudhart, CEO of bus and rail giant Arriva, was given an 18 per cent pay rise from £1.1million to £1.34million last year

Manfred Rudhart, CEO of bus and rail giant Arriva, was given an 18 per cent pay rise from £1.1million to £1.34million last year

Manfred Rudhart, CEO of bus and rail giant Arriva, was given an 18 per cent pay rise from £1.1million to £1.34million last year

In January 2020 it was revealed that fat cat rail bosses were handed inflation-busting salary hikes despite another year of rising fares and delays on the UK network.

The heads of all main rail company ownership groups were given huge pay rises, with most of them on seven-figure deals.

The chief of bus and rail giant Arriva received the biggest increase of all current rail bosses in spite of strong criticism for its handling of the Northern Rail franchise. 

According to analysis by The Times, Manfred Rudhart, 54, was given an 18 per cent pay rise from £1.1million to £1.34million.  

One passenger group said salary increases for fat cat bosses were ‘particularly insensitive’ after ticket prices were increased by 2.7 per cent upon people returning to work this week.

Ticket prices for rail commuters have risen by as much as £100 despite trains failing to stay on schedule.    

Northern Rail was one of the operators which raised its fares and would charge customers an extra 2.5 per cent. 

The operator was forced to cancel trains on Christmas Eve, which it claimed was down to ‘unprecedented’ levels of staff sickness and holiday entitlement.

In the year up to the end of September, a massive 34.9 per cent of trains arrived at least a minute late and three per cent were cancelled, according to figures from the Office of Rail and Road. 

Arriva has run the network since 2016, promising to upgrade infrastructure and replace the ageing trains with a new £400million fleet, but it became increasingly reliant on state support.

Last year Northern burned through £763million of taxpayers’ money, making it the most heavily subsidised operator in the country.

Mr Shapps also implied that other rail firms were also in the Government’s sights. 

Last week he announced train services operated by South Western Railway (SWR) could be taken into public ownership after the franchise, owned by FirstGroup and MTR, made a pre-tax loss of £139 million in the year to March 2019. 

Announcing that the current model of privatised railways was ‘failing to deliver’, Mr Shapps went on: ‘Today’s announcement will inevitably raise questions about the future of rail privatisation.

‘Over the past 20 years privatisation has reversed over two decades of declining passenger numbers and passenger journeys have almost doubled to nearly 2 billion. 

‘However, it is clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver. Across the country a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require.

‘We know change is needed, and it is coming.’

Passengers on Northern Rail have had to endure years of problems, with high levels of delays and cancellations due to strikes, driver shortages, timetable issues, delays to the delivery of new trains and old, creaking infrastructure.

Northern being taken back under public control represents the second failed franchise to be renationalised in less than two years. 

In 2018, control of the East Coast line was taken back from Virgin and Stagecoach by Mr Shapps’ predecessor Chris Grayling.

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley, and chair of the Home Affairs Committee, today tweeted: ‘About time. Delays & cancellations under Northern Rail have been getting worse and worse and worse.

‘But Govt also needs a proper plan to invest in our northern railways, trains and stations so we get a fair deal.’

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said today: ‘Passengers in the north deserve better than the service they have received from the different parts of the railway.

‘Plans to deliver real improvements were hamstrung by a flawed industry structure, with different parts working to different targets and no one body clearly in charge and accountable to passengers.

‘The industry’s proposals to the forthcoming government review into rail set out a radical alternative to the status quo. This review must be published urgently.

‘Alongside fixing fundamental problems like capacity and fares, it will mean rail companies can get on with delivering the more joined-up, customer-focussed railway the country needs now and for the long-term.’

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers union Aslef, said problems that had dogged the Northern network could not be solved ‘overnight’.

Northern achieved the dismal rating after months of delays, cancellations and strikes

Northern achieved the dismal rating after months of delays, cancellations and strikes

Northern achieved the dismal rating after months of delays, cancellations and strikes

He said: ‘We welcome today’s decision, because we want the railway in public ownership, but let’s do it properly, with a clear, long-term, strategic vision, not just as a short-term response to the years of franchised failure.

‘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.

South Western Railway could be taken into public ownership after losing £139million last year, Grant Shapps says

Train services operated by South Western Railway (SWR) could be taken into public ownership due to losses made by the franchise, Grant Shapps announced last week.

Poor punctuality and reliability combined with slower revenue growth has led to the operator’s financial performance being ‘significantly below expectation’ since the franchise began in August 2017, the Transport Secretary said.

The franchise, owned by FirstGroup and MTR, made a pre-tax loss of £139 million in the year to March 2019. 

SWR have ‘not yet failed to meet their financial commitments’ but the Department for Transport ‘must prepare suitable contingency measures’, Mr Shapps explained in a written ministerial statement on January 22.

Potential options include issuing a new short-term contract to SWR’s owners – FirstGroup and MTR – or transferring the operation of trains to public-sector body the Operator of Last Resort.

The OLR took over services on the east coast route in June 2018 under the London North Eastern Railway brand, following the failure of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise. 

Mr Shapps said SWR will ‘continue to operate as usual with no material impact on SWR services or staff’.

He added: ‘Across the country, a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require and there are legitimate questions on whether the current franchising model is viable.

‘Keith Williams – who is leading an independent review into the railways – has already stated that franchising cannot continue in its current form.

‘His review will propose sector-wide reforms which aim to put passengers at the heart of the railway.’

‘Northern needs investment – the north of England has had much less than the south – and it won’t be a success until significant sums are invested in modernising its 19th century infrastructure. We need to build connectivity across the north, for passengers and for businesses, by engaging with metro mayors like Andy Burnham in Manchester and Steve Rotheram in Liverpool.

‘And the plight of passengers would have been much worse without the flexibility of our members, who are also impacted when services are cancelled, because the company has never employed enough drivers to deliver the service it promised.’

In a joint statement on the decision to strip Northern of the franchise, Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Steve Rotheram, the Mayor the Liverpool City Region, said the news was a ‘victory’ for passengers.

They said: ‘Today’s news is a victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern Rail.

‘We are pleased the Government has finally answered our call and returned the Northern franchise to public ownership. But today’s welcome move by ministers is only the start of fixing the north’s railways.

‘The Government must now commit to investing in much-needed rail infrastructure and work with leaders across the north to deliver the vision and funding needed to build the modern transport network that the people of our region deserve.’

Yesterday it was revealed the railway had been voted the worst train company in the country with just 72 per cent of passengers saying they were satisfied with the operator’s performance over the autumn. 

The dismal score, from a survey of 28,000 by the Transport Focus watchdog, was the lowest in 20 years.   

In the customer survey, TransPennine Express, the other major rail operator in the North, was the joint fourth worst, with only 79 per cent of passengers satisfied.

West Midlands Trains was the second-worst operator, with 73 per cent of passengers satisfied, while South Western Railway was third-worst with 74 per cent.

But the survey found that overall satisfaction is at 82 per cent, up from 79 per cent last year. 

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, welcomed the decision but claimed it is time the Government understood that ‘franchising of our railways, while stuffing the mouths of shareholders with gold, has completely failed’.

Tories pledge £500m to reopen Beeching lines: Rail services across northern England axed after controversial 1960s report could get new lease of life 

Ministers have pledged £500million to reopen closed railway lines in the North of England.

Lines earmarked for restoration include many which were axed in the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s.

Dr Richard Beeching, then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network – mainly branch lines – in an efficiency drive.

One of the first lines to reopen will be the Ashington and Blyth Valley to Newcastle connection – benefiting the Blyth Valley seat won by the Tories after 69 years under Labour.

Ministers are also working to reopen the track linking Blackpool and Fleetwood.

The Transport Secretary announced the plans on a visit to Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire this week.

The government is funding proposals re-opening 2 lines in the near future: £1.5 million to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire. Last the government mooted proposals for opening new rail lines in 2017 they suggested 12 that could re-open (pictured)

The government is funding proposals re-opening 2 lines in the near future: £1.5 million to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire. Last the government mooted proposals for opening new rail lines in 2017 they suggested 12 that could re-open (pictured)

The government is funding proposals re-opening 2 lines in the near future: £1.5 million to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire. Last the government mooted proposals for opening new rail lines in 2017 they suggested 12 that could re-open (pictured)

He said: ‘Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.

‘Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone.’

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: ‘This is an exciting moment as we look to revitalise our railways, reconnect communities and reinvigorate our country.

‘Local MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines, and we want to work closely together to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.

‘There will also be opportunities for towns who have lost stations to receive a boost, as we launch another round of our new stations fund.’

A map showing the British Railway network before and after the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s

A map showing the British Railway network before and after the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s

A map showing the British Railway network before and after the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s

MPs, local authorities and community groups across the country are being invited to come up with ideas about how to reinstate others axed rail lines and stations.

The thousands of miles of railway that were axed under the Beeching cuts are in various states of repair.

Some still maintain freight services, some sit unused and overgrown whilst others have been built over or converted to cycle routes or pathways.

Ministers have also vowed to spend £20million to develop new stations in areas which don’t have a rail connection.

The announcement forms part of Boris Johnson’s plans to ‘level up’ the country by drastically improving rail links in the regions. 

Dr Richard Beeching, (pictured) then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network - mainly branch lines - in an efficiency drive

Dr Richard Beeching, (pictured) then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network - mainly branch lines - in an efficiency drive

Dr Richard Beeching, (pictured) then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network – mainly branch lines – in an efficiency drive

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