Transport Secretary vows to strip Northern Rail of franchise over 'completely unacceptable' service
Troubled train operator Northern Rail will be stripped of its franchise over its "completely unacceptable" performance, the Transport Secretary has suggested.
Grant Shapps said he was "taking action" against the firm after a string of delays and cancellations.
The announcement came on the day that commuters faced a 2.7% hike to their fares across the rail network.
Mr Shapps confirmed in October that Northern, which is part of the Arriva group and currently runs services across the north of England, could be stripped of the franchise, with the Department for Transport considering putting the franchise into public hands.
But he appeared to go a step further on Thursday, confirming that he was "not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is".
He told BBC Breakfast: "It is completely unacceptable to have a situation where trains almost routinely don't run to a routine, don't run on time.
"I simply will not put up with that and I've already kicked off that process and I'll be saying more about it very soon...
"I will absolutely bring that situation to an end."
Pressed on whether that meant Northern Rail would lose its franchise, Mr Shapps said: "That's right. In the autumn I wrote to the necessary parties with what is called a 'request for proposal'. And that's simply where you say; look I'm going to take action.
"There are a couple of ways that can go. One is to strip the franchise, one is to have a short-term contract.
"But yes, exactly as you've said, I'm simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action."
However, a transport industry source urged caution on the announcement, pointing out that terminating the franchise remained "an option" and that no final decision had been made.
A DfT spokesperson meanwhile said: “As the Transport Secretary said, he has started a process which would either strip Northern of its franchise or issue a short-term contract to them.
"We are taking action to ensure passengers in the North get a better service and we will provide an update in due course."
'BEST SERVICE POSSIBLE'
The move follows figures showing that just 40.5% of all Northern services arrived on time between November and December last year.
And fewer than two-thirds (62.4%) of the franchise's services arrived within three minutes of their scheduled arrival times, performance data released by the operator shows.
Meanwhile 7.6% of the operators' services were cancelled altogether over the same period, with 8.8% of trains running a reduced number of carriages.
Respoind to the Transport Secretary's comments, David Brown, managing Director at Northern, 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."
And he added: “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. 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 forcustomers 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.”
But Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who is mulling a run for the Labour leadership, said: "For years Northern passengers have put up with chaos and misery on the railways.
"People have given up jobs, lost time with their families and faced sanctions at work. How on earth could it have taken so long for the Tories to realise it is ‘unacceptable’?"
The comments from Mr Shapps also came as ministers were accused of presiding over “another decade of misery” on the railways as the latest hikes to train fares kicks in.
Rail fares will rise by an average of 2.7% from today, sparking fury from campaign groups who warned that some long-distance commuters will see more than £100 added to the cost of their annual season ticket.
Labour said ticket prices had soared by by 40% since 2010, while pressure group Railfuture warned that fares were "outstripping people's incomes".