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Ministers plan to split UK’s worst rail operator Northern in two and take it into public ownership

Ministers plan to split UK’s worst rail operator Northern in two and take it into public ownershipNorthern will be split into two providers called North West and North East Operator straddles the Pennines and runs services for 15million peopleCarving up will be the first time the operator has been split in almost 20 years By Sebastian Murphy-bates…

Ministers plan to split UK’s worst rail operator Northern in two and take it into public ownership

  • Northern will be split into two providers called North West and North East 
  • Operator straddles the Pennines and runs services for 15million people
  • Carving up will be the first time the operator has been split in almost 20 years 

By Sebastian Murphy-bates For Mailonline

Published: | Updated:

Ministers plan to split the UK’s worst rail operator into two and take it into public ownership.

The government will carve up Northern rail in what could be a re-nationalisation of train services across the north of England.

It will become North West and North East under Whitehall plans, senior industry sources told The Telegraph. The provider will transfer into public ownership on March 31.  

The move marks the first time that the network has been split for almost two decades.

Northern will split into North West and North East under new plans that could mean that it is re-nationalised (stock image) 

Northern straddles the Pennines and completes 16,000 journeys each week to serve 15million people.

Delays to crucial track upgrades and stations coupled with strike action and a bungled timetable change have caused chaos on its lines. 

Furious commuters have protested in the streets of former Labour-held ‘red wall’ constituencies as they aired their anger at a lack of action from Westminster.   

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued a ‘request for proposals’ from Northern

Transport secretary Grant Shapps ordered Arriva to draw up a fresh plan for the network in October.

The plans are to be compared with those put forward by the government body Operator of Last Resort.

Arriva – which is owned by Germany’s state operator Deutsche Bahn – is understood to have offered to run the network for either two or four years. 

Although negotiations continue, sources say that they are close to breaking down. Whitehall officials are not willing to commit to delivering infrastructure upgrades on time.

Another key sticking point is the government’s refusal to provide an undertaking to curb the power of trade unions. 

Deutsche Bahn is struggling with debts of more than €20bn (£17bn) and plans to float Arriva on the Amsterdam stock exchange in 2020. It initially tried to sell to US private equity firm Carlyle, but the transaction collapsed. 

Sources said that Deutsche Bahn needed the government commitments to prevent further disruption to Arriva’s sale.

Northern formed in 2000 as North West merged with Regional Railways and Regional Railways North East.  

News of the split comes after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram urged ministers to ‘get a grip of the chaos on the railways of the North and remove the franchise from Northern’ in a joint statement.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Mr Shapps said the level of performance on the Northern network ‘cannot continue’ (stock image)

Northern’s chief executive, David Brown, says that the electrification of lines in the north west of England had been delayed by more than two years.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘As the secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, announced at the Transport select committee in October, we are developing contingency plans for the replacement of the current franchise with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the Operator of Last Resort.’

Scotland’s main rail operator Abellio was stripped of its franchise earlier this month, three years earlier than planned. 

Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson triggered a clause to end ScotRail’s contract in 2022 following anger from passengers over cancellations and delays.

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