Northern Rail to be renationalised after 'failing' passengers, Grant Shapps announces

Posted On: 
29th January 2020

The troubled Northern Rail franchise will be brought into public ownership after failing to "meet the needs of passengers", the Transport Secretary has announced.

The Northern franchise will be run by the Government's own operator 'of last resort'.

Grant Shapps on Wednesday confirmed that the lines will be removed from the control of Arriva-owned Northern and will be run by the Government as the 'operator of last resort' from March.

The move shuts down the option of allowing Northern to keep running the service on a short-term contract, in a move the Cabinet minister said would mark a "new beginning" for the franchise.

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"It's no surprise that passengers have lost trust in the north's rail network," he said. 

"The service provided by the rail network in the north has failed to meet the needs of passengers. People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that."

Confirming the move, Mr Shapps said: "I am announcing today that from March 1 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 Transport Secretary said the Department would also work to tackle overcrowding by extending platforms at thirty stations on the network, while promising that all carriages would be "deep-cleaned" to ensure "the first and last passengers travel on trains in the same condition".

The Northern franchise covers vast swathes of the North of England, with Lancashire, Yorkshire, Manchester and Tyne and Wear all served by the provider.

The latest performance data from Northern shows that just 45.6% of all its trains arrived on time between December and January. The figures were even worse for South and East Yorkshire, where only a third (33.1%) of services ran on time.

More than 8% of its services were cancelled over the same period. 

Mr Shapps said: "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 re 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."


The move has been given only a cautious welcome by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne and was set up to boost the voice of the North in political decision-making.

"In stripping Northern of their franchise in favour of a return to public ownership under the Department for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort, the Transport Secretary is dealing with the symptoms, but not necessarily the root causes of the problems on our railways, which relate to infrastructure – and his absence from the House of Commons to make a statement in person and answer questions today is frankly unacceptable and will not have gone unnoticed amongst many Northern business and civic leaders," the group said.

They added: "While the forthcoming Williams review will rightly address issues with the franchising process in the North, government should urgently act to undertake the engineering works needed to allow operators to run services more effectively, as well as get started with the £3 billion long awaited Trans Pennine Route Upgrade which is essential. 

"Otherwise we risk a situation where the North faces years more misery on its rail network – regardless of who runs the trains. The only permanent solution is to give the oversight of both upgrade schemes and services to the North for our leaders here to take responsibility for them."

The nationalisation of Northern Rail is the second such move by the Government in the past two years, following the takeover of the East Coast mainline franchise in 2018.

Mr Shapps has meanwhile hinted at further action when he described the South Western Railway franchise as "not sustainable" after a period of poor financial performance.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: "The Tories have refused to hold Arriva to the terms of its Northern Rail contract.

"Millions of passengers have faced misery and delays yet this government has done nothing for years. And now, despite their failure, another private transport company is getting a Tory bailout.

 "Today’s admission of failure after years of denial is frankly too little too late. So much for levelling up the north - this government seems intent to keep the north down.

 "All failing rail contracts should be taken into public control as a major step towards uniting track and train."

Tim Farron, Lib Dem spokesman for the north of England, said: "I am delighted that my calls to ‘Sack Northern’ have finally been listened to by this Conservative government. For far too long, people across the north of England have suffered a substandard service.

"However, this is just the first step on a long road to improving the trains across the north. The Conservatives must now reverse their cancellations of the electrification of the Lakes Line and the Trans-Pennine line. It must press on with HS2, while increasing transparency and accountability of this project. 

"It must also approve the new Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Leeds and publish the Williams Review, implementing its recommendations as a matter of urgency.

"Sacking Northern will not fix the problems with our railways overnight and Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Tories to account on their delivery of rail services across the north and the rest of the UK."