Published: 8th April 2014
The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that the Northern Rail franchise would be extended for nearly two years to February 2016 with the current operators Serco and the Abellio, who are a subsidiary of Dutch Railways NS owned by the Dutch Government.
The existing Franchise expired on April 1 and the new deal only announced on March 27 and has had to be extended as a result of the West Coast main Line franchising collapse nearly two years ago.
The DfT say that the agreement 'marks the start of the transformation of rail services across the north', and will help support £600m of rail investment in the region. This of course had already been announced and includes a huge electrification programme which really will benefit rail users.
The new arrangements have also been signed off in conjunction with five regional Passenger Transport Executives and includes tougher punctuality, reliability and passenger satisfaction targets. There is also what is called a commitment to provide information screens at a 100 stations plus widening the availability of advance purchase tickets.
The regional transport executives will now work with The DfT on the new franchise specification and also on service management. Northern Rail is a huge complex operation providing trains across rural lines, busy commuter routes and long distance stopping services.
The company operates 2 500 services a day linking Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, Scarborough, Hexham and Sheffield carrying 94 million passengers annually or about 50% more than in December 2004 when the franchise commenced.
The fleet of trains used has consistently attracted critisism as services are operated mainly with older BritishbRail built diesel units dating back to the 1980s. They do also use some electric trains on the Leeds commuter network which had to be lengthened to accomodate growth.
Northern is also a very active partner on scenic The Settle-Carlisle line running all the scheduled services through all weathers. Northern’s services were badly hit by the bad winter weather on their Cumbrian coast route between Carlisle, Millom and Barrow when as with Dawlish, the line runs along the sea wall which was breached in several places.
Northern Rail Managing Director Alex Hynes said the contract had been shaped by economic austerity and the government's aim of reducing the overall cost of rail to taxpayers.
'The next 22 months is about being more efficient and more effective, seeking and delivering new ways of working', he said. '
That doesn't mean taking short cuts or risks. It's about achieving a balance: delivering a safe and improved service in a new way: doing more with less. We're already delivering enhancements across our network; our services are more punctual and reliable, and the commitment is there to drive further efficiency with our partners.
Crucially the announcement gives us the opportunity to start consulting with all our stakeholders on the requirements for creating a step change in rail services for the north under the next long-term franchise.'
Rail travel across the north will be transformed over the next 5 years through huge levels of government investment.
However, I am well aware that there is a need for action now. So I have insisted on even tougher punctuality, reliability and passenger satisfaction targets for Northern Rail. We will also continue to work closely with the operator to deliver additional electric trains which will strengthen services across the network.
The DfT and Northern Rail are working on proposals to deliver a fleet of electric trains for the franchise, to allow diesel trains to be cascaded elsewhere strengthening overcrowded services for the next 22 months.
More trains will be operated on the Middlesborough to Whitby line from May bringing four more services a day between the two towns. More will operate between Middlesborough and Nunthorpe to feed a growing market.
Once electrification has been completed in a couple of years, train services will need to be recast as Transpennine Express services may no longer serve places like Scarborough and Middlesborough on as frequent a basis as now using diesel trains.