Northern criticised by Sheffield City Region mayor as government warns firm could be stripped of franchise over poor performance

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Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis says train passengers in the region have been let down by ‘delayed, overcrowded and expensive services’ following the news Northern could lose its rail franchise.

The troubled firm, which is owned by parent company Arriva, has been dogged by constant complaints for years on chaos with timetables, ageing trains and packed services at peak times across South Yorkshire and beyond.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps reaffirmed calls on Thursday that Northern could be stripped of its franchise due to poor performance.

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Mayor Jarvis said the announcement should not be a distraction from the newly implemented hike in rail fares of three per cent and added the Government had ‘consistently failed to act’.

Sheffield City Region mayor, Dan Jarvis. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeSheffield City Region mayor, Dan Jarvis. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Sheffield City Region mayor, Dan Jarvis. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

He said: “Despite calls from Northern leaders and myself, the Government has consistently failed to act, with passengers being let down by delayed, overcrowded, and expensive services.

“Today’s announcement merely reaffirms the process which the Transport Secretary started in the Autumn. Urgent and decisive action to address this catalogue of disasters must be taken.

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“This is something I’ve been pressing for since I became Mayor, and I’ll be raising yet again in Parliament on Tuesday to get further clarity on the Government’s proposed solution.

“We should not be distracted from the fact that today rail fares across the country are rising by an average of three per cent.

“This increase is unacceptable in the current circumstances. The priority must be passengers; not profits. More investment is needed for transport infrastructure in the North.

“Without this, the same problems will persist. Urgent and decisive action is required.”

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But Northern boss David Brown said they had faced ‘unprecedented challenges’ which were ‘outside of their direct control.’

He noted delays to key infrastructure upgrades and strike action as problems.

Giving evidence to the Commons' Transport Select Committee last year, Mr Shapps said that he had issued a ‘request for proposals’ from the company and the Operator of Last Resort.

This could lead to the Northern service as it stands today being brought under government control.

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David Brown, managing director at Northern, said: “It’s on record that the Northern franchise has faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the past couple of years, outside the direct control of Northern. The most significant of these is the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades.

“These factors – alongside the damage caused by strike action and lower than expected economic growth – have had a significant effect on the revenue expected in our original franchise business plan agreed with government back in 2015.

“Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving customers’ experience. We are delivering the biggest transformation of local rail for a generation.”