Why rail franchise promises are as unreliable as Northern’s trains – Rachel Reeves

Rail operator Northern is set to lose its franchise.
Rail operator Northern is set to lose its franchise.
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I SHARE the frustration and anger of everyone who uses our local trains over the latest price hike this week for what remains a woefully unacceptable service.

The average national rise of 2.7 per cent means millions of travellers will have to pay more and get less when it comes to our creaking rail network.

The poor performance of rail operator Northern remains in the national spotlight.

The poor performance of rail operator Northern remains in the national spotlight.

It also means average fares have shot up by 40 per cent since 2010 as passengers endure wretched journeys on overcrowded trains that are frequently delayed or cancelled.

Northern and three questions for Grant Shapps over failing rail franchise – The Yorkshire Post says

However, it is a different story in Germany where train provider Deutsche Bahn has just announced it would cut ticket prices for long distance travel by 10 per cent in 2020 to help tackle the climate crisis.

‘Sack’ Northern and TransPennine Express rail operators now, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is urged

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) and his predecessor Chris Grayling (right).

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) and his predecessor Chris Grayling (right).

Another German-based firm, Arriva, holds the franchise here for Northern which has a lamentable record. The latest figures from the Office of Road and Rail show just 55.6 per cent of Northern trains arrived at stations within one minute of their scheduled time in the year to December. That compares to an average of 65.3 per cent.

Ministers must act to stop railway passengers being taken for a ride with price rises and unreliable train services - Tom Richmond

Northern has been plagued with problems. In November and December I met commuters at the four stations in my Leeds West constituency – Bramley, Headingley, Burley Park and Kirkstall Forge. Every morning, as I waited on the platform, services were late and overcrowded.

Northern’s management keep talking about improvements and the challenges they faced with the delayed introduction of rail electrification. But we have heard the excuses for too long and the promised improvements are far too slow in coming. Enough is enough.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is under pressure to strip Northern of its franchise.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is under pressure to strip Northern of its franchise.

A huge part of the blame falls squarely on the Government. The previous Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was a disaster who failed miserably and seemed incapable of even grasping the scale of the problems.

His successor, Grant Shapps, has now admitted the services run by Northern were “really bad” and that passengers had suffered a “nightmare”.

But Ministers need to act. It is time for the Government to strip Northern of its franchise and put in charge a management that can deliver a reliable service.

Shapps has said Northern will lose its franchise. But rail users need a timetable of exactly when that will happen and how the new process will operate.

Every day is an ordeal for Northern passengers as the company fails to meet its franchise obligations. It is no surprise Labour’s proposal to renationalise the railways remains hugely popular with the public.

Yet, at present, Northern’s franchise is due to run until 2025. The Government must explain as a matter of urgency what it is going to do about our radically improving our rail services.

The Transport Secretary says that in October he issued a request for proposals to improve the service. But what has happened since then? It’s hard to see any progress.

The Government could tell the public sector operator, the Operator of Last Resort, to take control of Northern’s franchise and remove Arriva.

The alternative would be to switch the franchise to a management contract which would allow Arriva to still run the trains for a set fee, but with the Department for Transport setting the rules. We need to know which is the Government’s favoured option.

The Government must outline its plans for Northern and stop trying to deflect attention from the fare hikes with tough words but no action.

Boris Johnson and his ministers keep talking about investment in the North, but their promises are about as unreliable as Northern’s trains.

We have experienced almost a decade of Conservative-led governments, but there has been scant evidence of a genuine commitment to ending the imbalance between investment in the North and the South. When it comes to investing in our region, it should not just be about the economic value of any particular project, but also about what that project could bring in social, environmental and other benefits.

Those who manage our transport system need to be more innovative when it comes to simplifying the bewildering array of fares. They also need to simplify ticketing by maximising the use of new technology.

A new report from Transport for the North highlighted the potential of ticketing systems used in Germany to help travellers get the best value and make their purchases much easier. All these options should be explored. In the months ahead, Labour MPs from the North like me will be holding ministers’ feet to the fire and demanding answers.

It’s time to take back control of Northern and ensure our railways are fit for purpose. Our region cannot thrive when our transport system is so unreliable, expensive and plagued with delays.

We are told there will be some news soon from the Government about Northern. But the Government has promised action for months. The Prime Minister needs to deliver the radical changes our railways so desperately need. Commuters have had enough and expect the Government to be on their side – not on the side of the big rail operators.

Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West.