Northern Rail woes continue as mayors call for company to lose franchise

Northern leaders have rallied together in a bid to ensure Northern Rail issues are rectified as soon as possible with one council leader accusing the organisation of treating the north like a “third world nation”.

It comes after a disastrous week for the rail operator with cancellations and delays becoming the norm, leaving passengers across the north frustrated and angry about the service. 

The mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region have now come out to say that if improvements are not forthcoming then Northern should face the consequences and lose its franchise. 

Burnham has questioned the views of transport secretary Chris Grayling, following a teleconference call with the leaders in which he said he believed that electrification delays by Network Rail were the root cause of the problem. The Greater Manchester mayor instead believes that Northern are failing to staff services properly and have let down passengers.

The mayors said the chaos on the network has been "so extreme" that Northern has "lost the benefit of the doubt". "They simply cannot be permitted to keep inflicting a miserable sub-standard service on the hundreds of thousands of passengers across our region who have had to endure dire train travel for far too long," they said.

Wigan council leader David Molyneux has lambasted the “faceless shareholders” of Northern and claimed passengers in the region were being treated to conditions likened to “a third world country”. 

The government has promised to prioritise Northern rail issues and ensure a plan of action to fix the train operator’s poor service is implemented. Despite the severe problems faced on a vast number of services, the rail minister Jo Johnson has said the operator is just suffering from “teething problems” and was confident passengers would soon see the benefits of efforts being made by the government to improve transport links in the north.

Yesterday, (24 May) Northern Rail and Network Rail commissioned an independent report into the problems facing the service in the region. Customer groups, transport and northern stakeholders will be invited to contribute to the report. 

Martin Frobisher, managing director for Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “We recognise how tough it has been for customers, particularly since the May timetable change last weekend and we’re sorry for that. We are working hard with Northern to get service back to where it needs to be. We will work as one team to achieve this. The independent report will ensure lessons are learned and that there are no repeats of current problems as we prepare for the next major timetable change in December this year.”

David Brown, managing director of Northern, added: “We are doing everything we can to minimise cancellations and delays and keep our customers informed. It has been difficult for many of our customers and I am truly sorry for this. “There is urgent work to do to fully understand what did and didn’t work on all aspects of planning and delivery of the new timetable.”

A number of measures to improve services have also been promised which include driver rostering to get more trains running, increasing driver training on new routes, additional contingency drivers and putting extra peak services in the timetable along the Bolton corridor, including between Buckshaw and Manchester Victoria, and Preston and Manchester Oxford Road.

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