Arriva loses franchise in Northern England

Arriva UK Trains will lose the rail franchise in Northern England five years ahead of schedule. The UK government will take Northern, the troubled train operator, under its control from 1 March 2020 instead of March 2025. Such an extraordinary decision has been approved due to the company’s poor performance.

The railway connections in the northern part of the United Kingdom are again under the scrutiny of the country’s government. In less than two months after the unprecedented decision to remove the Dutch company Abellio from the ScotRail rail franchise, the Department for Transport has taken similar measures. Now is the turn of Arriva UK Trains owned by the German railway operator Deutsche Bahn. The latter loses the Northern franchise in Northern England five years earlier than it was scheduled before. “People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that,” the BBC quoted the words of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Criticism

Arriva is running the railway services in Northern England (Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, etc.) under the brand name ‘Northern’ since 1 April 2016. In May 2018 the company introduced the new timetable. Since that time, Northern has problems with punctuality and schedule performance. At the end of 2019, the situation has worsened. As a result, Grant Shapps has been implying on possible removal of Arriva from the Northern franchise several times only during the recent months. “As a fellow long-suffering commuter, I entirely believe we cannot carry on just thinking it is OK for trains not to arrive,” he said last October. The similar announcements were made in the following months. And now, these declarations have become true.

Two options

Starting from 1 March 2020, the Northern rail franchise will be taken into the public hands. This suggests two possible options. The first one is the conversion of the train operating company branded as Northern into a public company with the same or similar name. Such a scenario has already been implemented in the case of the InterCity East Coast franchise when the Government ousted Virgin Rail and incorporated London North Eastern Railway (LNER) as its public-owned operator. Meanwhile, the second option includes the conversion of the franchise into a so-called “management contract”. As the BBC’s Transport correspondent Tom Burridge notes, “Arriva would still be running the trains but for a set fee and the DfT would effectively set the parameters”.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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