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Northern Rail returns to public ownership after years of poor service

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The Northern Rail train franchise has been taken into public ownership following years of mismanagement and poor service by former owners Arriva.

The Government’s Operator of Last Resort (OLR) took over on Sunday from Arriva, which had only been running the network since April 2016.

According to a Which? study in 2018, Northern had the lowest rail franchise customer satisfaction in the UK, coming thirtieth out of 30 with a commuter customer satisfaction score of just 32 per cent.

“Mired by strikes, engineering works and timetable chaos in 2018, it’s no surprise,” Which? said.

When rated by commuters, it scored two stars for standing room and one star for everything else, including punctuality, availability of seats, customer service and value for money.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the aim of the change is to provide services that passengers can “truly rely on”.

Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show only 55 per cent of Northern trains arrived at stations within one minute of the timetable in the 12 months to February 1 2020, compared with an average across Britain of 65 per cent.

The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 saw hundreds of Northern trains cancelled each day.

Arriva also runs the Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry and Grand Central franchises, but the same Which? study broadly shows more satisfaction from customers who travel on these lines.

The OLR is now running services through its subsidiary Northern Trains.

A panel created to advise the operator includes Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, passenger representatives and rail industry bosses. It will be led by Richard George, chairman of the public sector operator.

The Department for Transport said overcrowding will be a “priority focus for improvement”. It plans to extend platforms at 30 stations to accommodate longer trains and is trialling new technology to identify crowding pinch points.

Shapps said: “This is a new era for rail in the North, but there will be no quick fix for the network as we build solutions for the future.

“Today marks the beginning of rebuilding of trust in these services and voices from the region will be essential as we work together to understand and deliver the improvements passengers need.”

Rail passenger groups, union leaders and politicians are staging protests today, demanding that the Government keeps Northern under public control. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said the franchise had “collapsed” after years of “mismanagement” by successive private train operators. The union said it believed the forthcoming Williams Review into how the railways are run could move Northern back into the private rail sector within weeks.

RMT officials will join politicians, passengers and campaigners at train stations across the north of England to send a “clear message” to the Government that the private franchise model is “broken” and should be replaced by an integrated, publicly owned railway.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Private speculators have driven Northern Rail to the brink and its return to public ownership, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short-term fix whilst we wait to see what scheme this Government comes up with next.

“This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.”

Ellen Lees, campaigns officer at We Own It, said: “The calamity of Northern Rail is all the evidence you need to see just how disastrous privatisation has been on our railway.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have asked the Government’s operator to prepare a 100-day plan to ensure we leave no stone unturned in delivering real and tangible improvements for passengers.

“We are also clear that we will look to provide local leaders with more powers over local services, timetables, fares and stations, to provide more control over their railways.

“This franchise underlines how the franchising model needs to change, which is why the Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure passengers are put first.”

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