A TROUBLED rail operator which runs services across the North-East is set to be stripped of its franchise following 'unacceptable' performance since 2016.

Northern Railway, which operates trains across the North-East into North Yorkshire and Cumbria, has been hit with delays, cancellations, high levels of complaints, staff strikes and delays to the roll-out of new and refurbished trains.

In the past year, just over half of its services arrived at railway stations across the network on time, compared with the overall average of 65 percent among Britain's other rail operators.

The Northern Echo:

Pledging to scrap the Arriva-owned franchise on Thursday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said "frustrated commuters will not have to wait long" before action is taken.

In response to being asked about the state of the franchise, he said: "The simple answer to the question is yes, it is going to be brought to an end - it's partially a legal process but frustrated commuters will not have to wait long."

Mr Shapps previously announced that he had taken the first steps towards potentially taking the franchise away by issuing a "request for proposals."

In the region, dozens of services including trains between Newcastle and Carlisle, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough and Whitby and Saltburn to Bishop Auckland, are operated by Northern.

The Northern Echo:

Welcoming the announcement, Darlington MP Peter Gibson told The Northern Echo that this was "good news for passengers" in his constituency and the wider region.

He said: "It's right that the transport secretary has intervened - I welcome the news if it's going to mean that passenger journeys and jobs for local people are protected.

"If we are going to have either a similar model with LNER or a new franchisee, then I think that's to be welcomed by travellers."

The Northern Echo:

Peter Gibson MP, left and Ben Houchen 

Last month, the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen slammed the firm for the continued running of the decades-old Pacer train, despite earlier promises that they would be taken out of service by December 15.

However responding to the announcement, Mr Houchen said: “I have been calling for Northern Rail to be stripped of its franchise for months, so I am pleased the Transport Secretary has today confirmed he is starting the process of appointing a new rail operator for the region.

“Hard-working local people rightly demand a reliable high-quality rail service and it’s been clear for far too long that Northern are simply not up to the job.

“Just last month I was forced to write to Northern’s Managing Director following their utter failure to remove all the hated Pacer trains from Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool by the end of the year as they promised to do.  

“Coupled with the rail operators wholly unacceptable performance over recent months I’m pleased Grant Shapps is acting in the interest of northern travellers.”

The Northern Echo:

The existing agreement with Northern, which was due to run until March 2025, will now be replaced by either a new short-term management contract or by nationalising services by putting the Government-controlled Operator of Last Resort in charge.

In 2018, Virgin Trains East Coast was stripped of its franchise after the former transport secretary Chris Grayling described its running of the East Coast Mainline as a "failure."

Shortly after, government-run LNER was formed to takeover the running of services between Glasgow, Edinburgh, the North-East and London.

Northern Railway bosses have previously said the firm has faced unprecedented challenges which "outside the direct control of Northern," referring to the late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades and delays in the building and delivery of new trains.

The Northern Echo:

In response, David Brown managing director at Northern Railway 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.

“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.

"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.

"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.”

  • A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We are taking action to ensure passengers in the North get a better service and we will provide an update in due course.”