St Helens MP welcomes decision that Northern is set to be stripped of rail franchise

Conor McGinn
Conor McGinn

The Labour MP for St Helens North has welcomed news that Northern is set to be stripped of its rail franchise.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning and revealed he is taking action to remove the franchise from Northern.

This comes as it was announced that fares would rise for commuters by an average of 2.7 per cent.

Arriva, the German company that runs Northern, was ordered by the Transport Secretary in October to draw up plans for how it will improve the service.

Northern’s deal was due to run until April 2025 but the firm has faced growing pressure to be stripped amid timetable chaos over the last two years.

The firm completes 16,000 journeys each week and runs trains in and out of stations across the borough, including St Helens Central, Lea Green, St Helens Junction, Earlestown and Newton-le-Willows.

Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, spoke to commuters at Newton-le-Willows railway station early this morning about Northern’s handling of the franchise.

Following today’s announcement from the Transport Secretary, Mr McGinn said: “In theory, Newton and St Helens have great connectivity to our railway network, with fast services to Liverpool and Manchester and new direct services to towns and cities like Leeds and Newcastle.

“But in practice, commuters are putting up with cancelled and delayed services every day, alongside increasing fares and overcrowding.

“I’m glad that the government has finally bowed to pressure from passengers, campaigners and MPs like me who’ve been telling them for a long time just how bad a deal our constituents get from expensive and unreliable rail and bus services.

“But this is only the first step. Public transport needs investment and must be run in the interests of passengers, not private profit.”

Mr McGinn was joined this morning by Liam Robinson, the chairman of Merseytravel, and Newton ward councillor for St Helens Council Seve Gomez-Aspron.

Coun Gomez-Aspron said the recent performance of Northern “simply isn’t good enough”.

“As ticket prices go up almost 3 per cent, you had almost a 50/50 chance last year that your Northern train wouldn’t turn up with 57 per cent of Northern services being cancelled,” Coun Gomez-Aspron said.

“This simply isn’t good enough for commuters and those who rely on the railway.

“This wouldn’t happen in London and shouldn’t happen between two of the largest cities in the North West.

“We’ve got a brand new £18m station in Newton-le-Willows and a 50/50 chance of a train turning up.

“It’s not good enough and the government needs to act”

Pressure for Northern to be stripped of the franchise has been building since the summer of 2018, following the botched introduction of a new timetable that saw numerous delays and cancellations.

Since then, Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region, has led a campaign with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, calling on the government to strip the rail firm of the franchise.

Mr Rotheram said the Transport Secretary need to “urgently explain” his comments on BBC Breakfast and set out a clear plan for the future of the franchise.

He also called on the government to reverse the fair rises announced today.

“For 18 months Andy Burnham and I have been calling on the government to get to grips with of the chaos on the railways of the North and remove the franchise from Northern,” Mr Rotheram said.

“Today’s announcement from the Transport Secretary that he is belatedly going to take some action will be welcomed by passengers – however it is still unclear what this means in practice.

“This is not good enough. Passengers and staff need clarity, so the Secretary of State should urgently explain his statement and set out a clear plan as to how he will bring back stability to our railways.

“Passengers will also feel rightly aggrieved that rail fares on Northern have gone up by as much as £100 today for a service described as ‘unacceptable’ by the Secretary of State.

“Given this, the government must now step in and cancel today’s fare rises.”