Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said he “simply will not put up with” the poor performance of Northern Rail, adding the operator could be stripped of the franchise.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Shapps said the level of service provided by the operator, which is owned by Arriva, is “completely unacceptable”, specifically referring to trains that “almost routinely don’t run to a routine, don’t run on time”.
The minister announced to Parliament in October that he was launching a formal process called a request for proposals, which could result in the franchise being handed to a new contractor or nationalised, as was the case when former transport secretary Chris Grayling allowed Virgin Trains and Stagecoach to exit the East Coast Main Line contract early.
Asked to clarify whether he intended to take the franchise away from Northern Rail, Shapps said “I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action” and that he will “be saying more about it very soon”.
Shapps also hinted that he is unhappy with the performance on a number of franchises, saying: “I do not think the service being operated on Northern – actually also on TransPennine on this holiday and several of the other routes – is anywhere near acceptable.”
His comments come as many commuters return to work with an average 2.7 per cent increase in fares, which has seen some travellers’ cost of getting to work go up by more than £100 despite less than two-thirds of trains running on time across the UK.
Northern has been criticised by commuters on social media in recent weeks, with the hashtag #NorthernFail trending on Twitter after the introduction of a new winter timetable caused delays and cancellations, which are still ongoing today. Its routes were also severely disrupted by the new timetable chaos seen in May 2018.
The operator’s on-time statistic for 2019 was just 57 per cent.
The government has yet to publish the results of a rail review undertaken by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, with the final report expected to make a number of recommendations for improving the UK’s railways.
Last month, the Scottish government announced it would end the ScotRail contract with Abellio thee years early due to concerns over the franchise’s poor performance.