Just spending more money won't fix the North's railways, says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

Investing extra funds into the North's rail infrastructure is "not the whole of the solution" to improving services for passengers, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today.

Mr Shapps this morning visited the Network Rail Operations Centre in York to meet northern political leaders and rail expert Richard George, who will be leading the public sector operator that will be taking over Northern rail services.

Bosses at the new nationalised operator will be given 100 days to come up with a plan to improve services after Mr Shapps announced this week that Northern would be taken into public ownership.

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Rail industry leaders have previously complained that the failure to deliver promised infrastructure improvements has hampered their ability to improve services as the rail network in the North is too crowded.

Mr Shapps said that £48bn was being spent by the Government on extra rail infrastructure nationwide, with £13bn of it going to the North of England, not taking into account the promised Northern Powerhouse Rail high speed project.

But he told The Yorkshire Post: "Funnily enough, in this situation I'm not sure lack of money is actually directly the problem, possibly management, the way that it's spent is.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PATransport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA

"I think many of the problems are a lot more basic than that, things like not having enough trains and drivers, long enough platforms and things like that.

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"So, money is part of it and yes, we're totally committed to the North as far as spending the money, but I don't think that's the whole of the solution."

Earlier this week Mr Shapps chose to return the Northern franchise to public ownership, rather than impose a short-term deal on its German-owned operator, Arriva, having revealed earlier this month that the contract was no longer financially sustainable and would be able to continue in its present form for only a few more months.

From March 1 commuter trains across the county will be operated by a company wholly owned by the Department of Transport and run by what he called “experienced railway managers”.

The so-called Operator of Last Resort already runs the East Coast main line between Yorkshire and London, having taken over from the collapsed Virgin East Coast consortium.

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Mr Shapps said he did not expect the current management at Northern to have a role at the new public operator.

He said: "I think people appreciate that we need change at Northern in order to make sure that some of the problems that we've seen are put behind us.

"While I'm not directly in charge or involved in that it won't be the management team moving over and running the new operator of last resort."

The Yorkshire Post understands that on March 1 all of Northern's staff, including senior figures such as Managing Director David Brown, will transfer across the new operator Northern Trains under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

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But Arriva bosses sitting above Mr Brown, such as Chris Burchell, managing director of its trains division, will not transfer over as the franchise has been taken out of the firm's hands.

Robin Gisby and Richard George, who will lead the new operator, will then decide how much of the existing management structure they want to keep in place.

Mr Shapps said in a statement: “The new public-sector operator has been tasked with delivering a new vision for the north’s railways, restoring confidence for passengers and delivering tangible improvements.

“Meeting with local leaders, there is clear agreement that the priorities of passengers must form the foundations for the 100-day action plan I have requested.

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“There are no quick fixes, but this is an important step towards a new future where the North takes back control of its railways.”

Speaking after the meeting, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, who leads on transport for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said progress was being made on the direction of Northern services.

She said: "This is very much the first step on a long journey to sort out the difficulties that passengers in the North are facing.

"The network at the moment is at capacity, there is no resilience and people have been suffering. We want to make sure that we in the North are absolutely involved in taking the next step forward."

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Mr Shapps remained tight-lipped about when a decision on the future of HS2 will be announced, refusing to confirm if an announcement would be made next Tuesday.

He said he had met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Sajid Javid last night to discuss the issue after Mr Javid was reported to have backed building the high speed route in full.