Rail franchises operators & contracts


TfN seeking Northern improvement plan after Burnham slams TOC performance

The chair of Transport for the North (TfN), John Cridland, has revealed that the organisation will seek to meet with Northern Rail boss David Brown to figure out an improvement plan to help mitigate the current performance problems that blight the franchise.

In a letter to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who recently called on TfN to investigate whether Northern Rail is in breach of its franchise agreement, Cridland sought to assuage concerns by promising that the issue will be formally escalated.

Burnham’s letter to TfN said the train operator’s recent service was “unacceptably poor,” highlighting examples of repeated cancellations of peak services – often with minimal notice – as well as regular delays and severe overcrowding, all of which is having a “significant impact” on commuters. Many have reported being regularly late for work as a result.

Whilst he acknowledged that there are a number of underlying causes, including delays to Network Rail’s electrification programme, he argued that “recent pressures appear to be predominantly caused by staff shortages,” which the mayor said many customers would not consider an acceptable excuse.

“It is not unreasonable to believe that with better planning, or more investment in staff, Northern may have been able to mitigate some of these recent problems,” added Burnham.

Arguing that the time has come for a significant escalation, he said: “I am therefore calling for TfN to carry out a formal assessment of whether Northern is in breach of the performance targets as set out in its franchise agreement.

“If it is determined that Northern is in breach then I would be grateful if you could set out what action TfN can take.”

Burnham claimed that a number of promised service improvements have not been delivered against the advertised timescale, without a valid explanation – with some corridors in Greater Manchester still having no Sunday service at all.

In his response, Cridland said this poor performance is a “matter of significant concern” and revealed the organisation, which recently received statutory powers, has already raised this issue with Northern to make it clear that they want more to be done to rectify the amount of cancellations, delays and short train formations.

“We have a meeting taking place with the Rail North Partnership, who manage the franchise, to address the current performance issues and we will be requesting a meeting with David Brown, managing director of Northern, to escalate these issues and discuss the improvement plan to help mitigate the impacts on passengers,” the chairman explained.

“The [Rail North] Partnership team has the power to seek appropriate remedial plans and have confirmed that Northern performance is already being formally assessed as part of the franchise management process and will be assessed on its compliance to the Train Service Requirement under the franchise agreement.”

Cridland committed to seeking further clarification on the point Burnham raised and will soon respond in full, but personally assured him that TfN will “be continuing to monitor performance, in conjunction with the Rail North Partnership, on a daily basis.”

These and other northern transport issues will be discussed at this year's TransCityRail Conference, taking place on 4 October at The Principal Hotel in Manchester. To attend, visit the dedicated website.

Top image: Peter Byrne, PA Wire


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