Grayling rejects calls to renationalise Northern rail and suggests leaders in the region should also face criticism

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has rejected calls to renationalise the stuttering Northern rail franchise.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has rejected calls to renationalise the stuttering Northern rail franchise.
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Under-fire Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has attempted to head off fierce criticism over the Northern rail timetabling fiasco by insisting the region's leaders are equally responsible for managing the franchise.

Mr Grayling also told MPs and critics who are calling for the railway franchise to be renationalised, like the collapsed East Coast Main Line contract, were "shooting at the wrong target".

He said the situation experienced by Northern rail passengers was "unacceptable" but again blamed Network Rail, the state-owned company responsible for Britain's rail infrastructure, as the major source of the delays and cancellations experienced by people using the services.

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Mr Grayling also took aim at the Rail North Partnership, an arm of Transport for the North, which manages the Northern franchise, insisting "it is not simply a question of my Department (for Transport)".

His remarks came amid chaos for passengers following the introduction of new timetables by Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway.

Mr Grayling apologised on Wednesday for the problems as questions were raised about his future due to his handling of the East Coast franchise.

Speaking in the Commons, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. who represents Westmorland and Lonsdale in Cumbria said: "EU rules clearly did not prevent the Government taking the East Coast franchise off Stagecoach last week, showing there is no hampering to the Government's power to remove a franchise from an operator that is failing.

"Given that this week we managed to pass 300 cancellations since the beginning of April on the Lakes Line in Cumbria and the enormous impact that is having on GCSE students trying to get to their exams, commuters and tourists alike - the impact being utterly catastrophic - will he listen to the exasperated travellers of Cumbria and intervene to strip Northern of both the Furness and Lakes franchises and do it today?"

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Mr Grayling replied: "Let's be clear, the situation on Northern has been unacceptable. As I said yesterday, later this morning I will be chairing a conference call with the northern leaders.

"This is the most devolved franchise. It is a partnership between northern leaders and the Department for Transport, it is not solely led by the Department for Transport which means it is no less important nonetheless to me that we get this resolved.

"I'm very clear that this problem his arisen for two prime reasons: the problems with the electrification that Network Rail is carrying out on the line through Bolton; and the failure of Network Rail to deliver a finalised timetable in time.

"So when he talks about the need to renationalise, when he talks about the need to strip the franchise, I think he's shooting at the wrong target.

"This is a failure in Network Rail and it must not happen again."

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Again pinpointing Transport for the North, Mr Grayling added: "What has happened has been unacceptable for passengers, but I would also remind him that this is one of the most devolved franchises in England, it is one where the management of the franchise is shared by my department and northern leaders through Rail North, so it is not simply a question of my department."

Last night, Transport for the North and the Department for Transport, acting through the Rail North Partnership, agreed a plan with Northern in response to the current performance issues.

Barry White, the chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “We are extremely disappointed and concerned with the inadequate performance of Northern. We have received a timetable recovery plan from Northern to address these concerns and improve the rail experience for passengers.

"Both Transport for the North and the Department for Transport, through the Rail North Partnership, will be monitoring progress against the plan on a daily basis.”

Speaking outside the Commons, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said Mr Grayling was wrong to blame Network Rail for the timetabling "debacle" across the UK rail network.

The Labour frontbencher said: “The Secretary of State for Transport is wrong to blame public rail infrastructure operator Network Rail for this week’s timetabling chaos.

“Train companies like Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway have had years to prepare for these changes. The companies have failed to manage, recruit and train enough staff to deliver these services.

“Once again Chris Grayling is letting train companies off the hook while rail passengers pay the price.”