BOSSES at troubled Arriva Trains Northern have set out their aim to become one of the best performing train operators in the country.

Managing director Ray Price said the company had faced a challenging year but was focused on making further improvements to its rail services.

Over the past 12 months, the company has been hit with pay disputes involving conductors and ticket office staff who staged a series of strikes.

It also failed to make the shortlist for the trans-Pennine express franchise, which begins next year.

Unveiling its business plan at its annual stakeholder conference in York, Mr Price said the company was "drawing a line in the sand", having recently settled with striking staff.

He said: "Last year was a challenging year, but now it is time to look forward for our customers, employees and the business.

"At Arriva Trains Northern, we will be strengthening our focus on safety, service delivery and customer care.

"We have an interim franchise to operate until September 2004 and we will be looking to ensure the requirements, set out by the Strategic Rail Authority, are met effectively and efficiently."

Mr Price added: "I am sure there will be cynics out there who will look to knock us at every opportunity, but without setting out our vision and having something to aim for, nothing will change and that is not what this company is about.

"Our overall aim is to position the company as one of the best performing train operators in the UK."

Arriva still hopes to win the Northern rail franchise, an amalgam of urban and rural routes in the North-West and North-East being created when its current franchise runs out next year.