St Helens MP calls on government to now invest in rail services in the north

Marie Rimmer MP
Marie Rimmer MP

Marie Rimmer MP has urged the government to put its “money where its mouth is” after announcing it will be renationalising the Northern rail franchise.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced in Parliament yesterday (Wednesday, January 29) that operator Arriva Rail North will be stripped of the franchise from March 1.

The German company 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 2025 but the firm has faced growing pressure to be stripped amid timetable chaos over the last two years.

The decision will see services operated by an arms-length “operator of last resort” public company that will report directly to the government.

Following the decision, Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South and Whiston, said renationalising the franchise is “just the beginning” and has called on the government to invest in the Northern rail infrastructure.

Ms Rimmer said: “Finally, after years of terrible service in St Helens, Knowsley and across the North, the franchise will be stripped from Northern Rail.

“At first the Prime Minister was considering giving the franchise one more chance with a short-term contract, but this would have been a catastrophic mistake. Failure should not be rewarded.

“But renationalising is only the beginning. The government needs to commit to provide the investment to get our rail service back on track.

“And that includes projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will bring huge economic benefits across the entire North.

“After a decade of cuts and neglect, it’s time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and invest in Northern infrastructure.”

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Shapps said the new public-sector operator is entirely owned by the Department for Transport (DfT) and run by experienced railway managers.
He said the firm owns and oversees another franchise, East Coast, which it brands as London North Eastern Railway, and has already seen passenger satisfaction rise in the 19 months it has been operating the service.

“This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning,” Mr Shapps said.

“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.”

Chris Burchell, managing director of Arriva UK Trains, said the firm understands the government’s decision.

He said Northern’s franchise plan had become “undeliverable” and admitted that a new plan was now needed.

Mr Burchell said: “We had a clear vision for the Northern franchise that would better connect the cities of the North with more frequent, reliable and modern services and unlock economic growth.

“It was clear however that, largely because of external factors, the franchise plan had become undeliverable.

“A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services.

“As such, we understand government’s decision.”

Mr Burchell said the improvements to the service have not come quickly enough and admitted that “passengers deserve better”.

He praised the hard work of the 6,000 strong team at Northern who have worked “tirelessly” over the last four years to deliver improvements to local rail services in the North, at times under “extremely difficult” conditions.

“The scale of the challenges we faced outside of our direct control were unprecedented, particularly around delayed or cancelled infrastructure projects and prolonged strike action,” he said.

“Despite the challenges, the team has introduced brand new trains onto the network for the first time in a generation.

“They have introduced more than 2,000 extra services per week, refurbished trains and stations, and created hundreds of new customer-facing jobs as part of a £600 million investment programme for the North.

“We recognise however that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better. For that, we wholeheartedly apologise.

“We now stand ready to support government and the operator of last resort to ensure a smooth transfer for our passengers and colleagues alike.

“I am confident that as a result of the determination and hard work of the Northern rail team, they have helped set strong foundations for future improvement on the network.”

The decision to strip Northern of the franchise has been welcomed by Transport for the North.

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said the move marks “the start of a journey” but warned the initiative must put passengers first and provide a reliable rail service that “rebuilds trust that has been lost”.

He said the sub-national transport body expects to be “fully involved” as the situation evolves and said it would monitor and hold the new operator to account “very closely”.

The transport chief also reiterated calls for further investment in the rail infrastructure and urged the government to make an early commitment in respect of this.

“We called for this. It is good the government has listened,” Mr White said.

“The DfT has also said it recognises the importance of planning for future growth and enhancements.

“We want to work in partnership with the operator on the development and delivery of our long-term vision.”