The pressure on Yorkshire’s biggest rail operator to be forced off the network intensified yesterday after two of the North’s elected mayors demanded it be stripped of its franchise.
In a joint statement, Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram and Manchester’s Andy Burnham said Northern Rail had “consistently failed” to deliver its legally binding requirements.
They also said Northern had failed to deliver a sustained improvement in performance, even after the debacle of last year’s botched timetable, which saw wholesale cancellations across the region.
The statement said nearly a fifth of all services were arriving late, 28,000 were cancelled, and the number with fewer carriages than planned had risen from 2,825 last December 2018 to 4,172 last month.
The statement comes a day after the Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, told The Yorkshire Post that Northern had assured him it was on track to retire its fleet of 1980s Pacer trains – bus bodies on rail chassis – by the end of the year.
But Mr Rotheram and Mr Burnham said Northern’s “failure” to introduce new trains meant that might not be the case.
They called on the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, to “bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible”.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, whose members were on strike every Saturday last autumn, said he supported the mayors but hinted at more unrest, saying he would seek “immediate assurances” on jobs from any new franchise operator.
He added that any attempt by Mr Grayling “to sabotage the clear wishes of the democratically elected representatives” would spark a “political backlash”.
Mr Grayling’s department said it could “see no reason at this stage to consider making changes to the franchise”.
But Labour said Northern had been “a failure in every possible sense”, and Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said the mayors’ words “clearly amount to a vote of no confidence” in Northern’s “unacceptable, third-rate service.”
The Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, told The Yorkshire Post hours before the statement, that rail franchising “had been one of the real successes over the last 25 years”. Asked if his assessment included Northern, he said: “Well, yes.”
The company’s managing director, David Brown, blamed “delays in infrastructure projects out of our control” for last year’s timetable chaos, and said improvements were “still a work in progress”.
He added: “The North deserves the best possible rail service and we are working hard to improve the performance and reliability.”