Mayors call for Northern franchise to be terminated

The Mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region have called on the Transport Secretary to terminate Northern’s rail franchise as soon as possible.

Speaking on behalf of the 4.3m people they represent, Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram made the call 12 months on from last May’s rail timetable chaos. The Mayors believe Northern has consistently failed to show they are able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver their legally-binding franchise requirements.

These include:

  • Failure to deliver a significant and sustained improvement in performance – with nearly a fifth of all services arriving late, 28,000 services cancelled, and a huge increase in services being “shortformed” (ie reducing the number of carriages on the train) from 2,825 in December 2018 to 4,172 in April 2019
  • Failure to resolve the RMT industrial dispute - which has seen 46 days of strike action
  • Failure to operate Sunday services – last Sunday alone there were 165 unplanned cancellations on top of 90 planned cancellations
  • Failure to introduce new trains – which means the hated Pacer trains may not be gone by the end of the year as promised
  • Failure to deliver new services – such as a range of promised additional hourly services in much-needed parts of the network

The Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region Mayors are now urging the Department of Transport to implement an ‘Operator of Last Resort’ and bring in a new board and team of directors to run the company as soon possible.

The Department of Transport has a legal duty to provide an Operator of Last Resort to ensure continuity of passenger services, in the event of a franchise failure. The Mayors have called for a commitment from the Government to provide resources to ensure all existing franchise commitments are delivered, including the introduction of new rolling stock, in the event of an Operator of Last Resort being appointed.

Making the call on Wednesday 29 May, the Mayors emphasised the rights of Northern staff must be protected under these new arrangements.  Both Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham were clear that Northern staff have had to work under difficult circumstances and have shown dedication and professionalism despite management failings over the last twelve months.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said: “We have been extremely patient with Northern but enough is enough. They promised us that things would be significantly better by May 2019 and that hasn’t happened. Train services across Greater Manchester and the North West remain unreliable and over-crowded. Sunday services are still subject to widespread cancellation and promises of new rolling stock have not been kept.

“The people of Greater Manchester deserve much better than this. That’s why, together with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, I am calling on the Transport Secretary to strip Arriva Rail North of this franchise and stabilise the franchise under the control of the Government. It is only through taking this action that we can restore the trust of the public and deliver a rail network that finally works for its passengers.

“We wish to make clear that we do not blame the staff of Northern who have worked hard over the last year in very difficult circumstances. We believe they, and the travelling public, have been let down by Northern’s management who have had plenty of opportunity to show how they will meet franchise requirements but have failed to do so.”

Mayor of Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said: “For too long the people of the Liverpool City Region and the whole of the North have been forced to accept rail services that are simply not good enough. Whether it’s frequent cancellations, short forming of trains or late arrivals Northern’s board have repeatedly failed to deliver on their franchise obligations.

“Given Northern’s consistent failure to provide an acceptable service we believe it is now time for Chris Grayling to terminate their franchise and move to that operator of last resort, as soon as possible. 

“Stripping Northern of their franchise will not solve all of the issues with our railways – the problems go far beyond just them - but it would be an important signal that the North is no longer prepared to put up with a second class service and a first step towards building the rail network that passengers deserve.”

More broadly, the two Mayors are calling on the Government to work with Transport for the North, Transport for Greater Manchester and Merseytravel, to work towards a new vision for rail in the North of England that puts passengers first. 

Ministers should keep all options on the table, including further devolution to the North and the option of public operation.



  1.      Failure to deliver promised improvements in performance
  • Over the past 12 months 18.5 per cent of Northern services arrived late and 4 per cent were cancelled or significantly late.

 *Data from ORR data portal



Total Franchise



Start of franchise to May timetable change in May 18



May 18 to December 18 



December 18 onwards



PPM (Public Performance Measure) – Percentage of trains that arrive within 5 mins of scheduled time for short distances and 10 mins for long distance.

CaSL (Cancellations and Severe Cancellations) - the proportion of trains which arrive at final destination greater than 30 minutes from planned arrival, or full/part cancelled or missed calls.

  • Northern reported that 27,895 services were cancelled between May 2018 and April 2019.
  • Northern reported 40,948 services ran with fewer carriages than scheduled between May 2018 and April 2019, contributing to overcrowding.
  • On the City Line (Liverpool to Manchester line), Northern ran 1,600 fewer trains in period 12 (Feb-March 2019) than in the same period in 2018. Of the trains that did run, 813 fewer ran on time in 2019 than in 2018.
  • In Autumn 2018 Northern’s customer satisfaction fell to 72 per cent, leaving it 25 out of 26 companies.
  • Northern’s central route, serving Greater Manchester, was the worst performing route for overall customer satisfaction (60%) and punctuality and reliability (54%).
  1. Failure to resolve RMT industrial dispute
  • Northern have been in a dispute with the RMT union over the role of guards on trains. Since March 2017 there have been 46 days of strikes.
  • From Aug 2018 to Feb 2019 the strikes were on Saturdays, prior to that there was no pattern.
  • Strikes led to the cancellations of around 70 per cent of services, with generally no services after 5pm on Saturdays.
  • The talks only moved forward after the Mayors and the Rail Minister directly intervened.
  1. Failure to operate Sunday services
  • Northern rely on drivers volunteering to work on Sundays. It has regularly been unable to secure enough drivers and has had to cancel services at short notice.
  • Due to this Northern has had to remove 90 Sunday services from its timetable, but it still needs to make additional cancellations, including 222 on Easter Sunday.
  • Last Sunday (26/05), an additional 165 Northern services were cancelled on routes affecting Greater Manchester, on top of the 90 pre-planned cancellations. The affected routes included services from Liverpool to Manchester Airport, and stopping services from Liverpool to Manchester Oxford Road.
  1. Failure to introduce new trains
  • Under their franchise Northern promised to introduce new trains and remove the old pacers. So far no new trains have been introduced and about 100 pacers are still in use on the network.
  • Northern only have until the end of December this year until they are legally required to remove pacers from the network under accessibility legislation (Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations).
  1. Failure to deliver new services
  • Northern has failed to introduce new services it promised as part of its franchise and is unlikely to be able to introduce them in the future. This includes the Liverpool to Leeds via Bradford northern connect services and the running of one additional train per hour between:
    • Hazel Grove – Manchester Piccadilly
    • Macclesfield – Manchester Piccadilly
    • Greenbank – Manchester Piccadilly
    • Bradford – Manchester Victoria – Manchester Airport

Article Published: 29/05/2019 08:28 AM