Failing rail firm Northern will be brought under public control from March 1, it has been announced.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement today, January 29, that the Government-controlled OLR (Operator of Last Resort) would be taking over the rail operations from March 1.
It means that Arriva Rail will be stripped of the franchise, following months of major disruption and chaos for commuters across the region.
In a written statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he wanted "real and tangible" improvements for passengers on Northern's routes.
He said: "I am announcing today that from 1 March the Northern Rail franchise will be taken into public ownership and the Government will begin operating services through the public-sector operator - the so-called operator of last resort.
"The public-sector operator is a company entirely owned by my department and run by experienced railway managers.
"It already owns and oversee another franchise, East Coast, which it brands as London North Eastern Railway. Passenger satisfaction has risen in the nineteen months it has been operating the service.
"This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning. Northern's network is huge and complex, some of the things which are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right.
"Nonetheless, I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible."
Mr Shapps added that the current model of privatised railways was "failing to deliver".
He said: "Today's announcement will inevitably raise questions about the future of rail privatisation. Over the past twenty years privatisation has reversed over two decades of declining passenger numbers and passenger journeys have almost doubled to nearly 2 billion.
"However, it is clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver. Across the country a number of franchises are failing to provide the reliable services that passengers require.
"We know change is needed, and it is coming. The Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure customers are at the heart of the system."
"A signal for everything that is wrong on Britain's broken, privatised railways"
Britain's largest rail union, RMT, responded to the news by "demanding that the whole broken private franchise model be swept away and replaced by an integrated, publicly owned railway from top to bottom."
Mick Cash, General Secretary of Britain's largest rail union RMT, said: “Northern has become a signal for everything that is wrong on Britain's broken, privatised railways and the fact that the Government have now been forced to take this action today will open the floodgates towards wholesale public ownership of our railways as other franchises fall like dominoes or simply choose to cut and run in the face of the inevitable.
“The return of Northern to the public domain, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short term fix and a holding operation pending another punt on another bunch of private speculators. This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.
“RMT will take whatever action is required to protect our members, their jobs and their conditions, caught in the crossfire of the rail franchise meltdown and the union will now be stepping up the campaign for the whole industry to now be brought back together as an integrated, national public service shaking off the grim legacy of 25 years of private profiteering.”
"Today's move is only the start of fixing the North's railways"
In a joint statement, Greater Manchester and St Helens mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram said: “Today’s news is a victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern Rail.
“We are pleased the government has finally answered our call and returned the Northern franchise to public ownership. But today’s welcome move by ministers is only the start of fixing the North’s railways.
“The Government must now commit to investing in much-needed rail infrastructure and work with leaders across the North to deliver the vision and funding needed to build the modern transport network that the people of our region deserve.”
"Now, at last, we have the chance of a fresh start"
Transport for the North also welcomed the decision.
Barry White, Chief Executive, said: “Our hard-pressed passengers have been calling for action for some time – as have our Members. Now, at last, we have the chance of a fresh start. Action has been taken and we can move forward. This new initiative must put passengers first and provide a reliable rail service that rebuilds trust that has been lost.”
He added: “In addition to this change, essential infrastructure is needed to reach the levels of performance and reliability we need, and we now need to see early commitment to this and accelerated delivery from Government.”
Barry said the move provides “a bridge to a better, longer term solution that works for the North” and marks “the start of a journey.”
"The government needs a proper plan"
Yvette Cooper, Labour MP, said on Twitter: "About time. Delays & cancellations under Northern Rail have been getting worse and worse and worse. But Govt also needs a proper plan to invest in our northern railways, trains and stations so we get a fair deal."
David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:“After years of misery Northern passengers just want a reliable service. In our latest survey Northern passenger satisfaction is at an all-time low. They deserve better.
“Passengers need to hear when services will get back on track. Government must now provide a plan, including much needed investment in infrastructure, to enable the next operator and Network Rail to improve performance and tackle overcrowding.
“The rail industry must listen to passengers and communicate its plan to improve services and rebuild trust.”