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Arriva chosen to run and expand Northern franchise from next year

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has awarded the long-awaited Northern franchise to Arriva Rail under a nine-year contract that he claims will oversee the “biggest transformation of rail journeys in the north of England in decades”.

Northern, previously operated by a joint venture between Serco and Abellio, will be handed to Arriva from 1 April next year. After the contract ends on 31 March 2025, McLoughlin will have the option to extend it another year.

According to the secretary of state, Arriva’s pitch went “well beyond” the ambitious plans he had set for the new franchise in the government’s invitation to tender (ITT).

584 McLoughlin

Chris Burchell, managing director of Arriva’s UK Trains division, said: “We are proud to be given the opportunity to transform rail travel for passengers in the north of England and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.

“We will be investing more than £1bn to deliver a step-change in quality for customers and dramatically improving services, stations, information and ticketing. Our aim is to be the communities’ local railway and to leave a positive lasting legacy for the north of England.”

Arriva Trains Northern 2002Arriva, which is ultimately owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned rail company, already operates the Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry franchises, the London Overground (with MTR) and Tyne & Wear Metro operating contracts, and it owns open access operators Grand Central and Alliance Rail, whose Great North Western services are set to begin in 2018.

It ran the old Northern franchise until 2004. 


Importantly, Arriva Rail North has promised to entirely remove the “outdated and unpopular” Pacers by the end of 2019, while investing another £400m in 281 new air-conditioned carriages – more than double what was required in the ITT.

Passengers will benefit from longer and more frequent services opening up space for 13,000 more passengers. There will be 37% extra peak capacity into Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds by 2019, and 46% more capacity (14,000 extra spaces) into Leeds and Sheffield during the morning rush hour.


A new ‘Northern Connect’ service will introduce new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys, stations staffed with catering services and free wi-fi on 36 stations and all services by December 2019. There will also be media servers on trains to provide entertainment and information to smartphones and tablets, and all staff will be issued smart devices.

There will be new trains on Manchester to Preston and Blackpool services once electrification is complete. Farnworth Tunnel, an important enabler of electrification between Manchester and Preston, is already set to return to a full timetable next week after new tracks are brought in.

As always, the new franchise will be tasked with improving customer satisfaction and reducing cancellations and short-formations, as well as introducing automatic delay repay compensation for passengers who buy season and advance tickets online.


The franchise will also coincide with the electrification of the TransPennine Line, now rescheduled to start at the beginning of 2018 and finish by 2022 after being put on hold in June.

And the amount of annual subsidy the government pays for Northern is on track to be reduced by £140m by the end of the nine-year contract.

New services

As well as serving Liverpool and Manchester, Northern will be taken to destinations including Blackpool North, Lancaster, Barrow, Chester, Windermere, Huyton, Carlisle and Warrington.

New late evening services will run on the Todmorden Curve from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn via Burnley and Accrington, and more services will be rolled out into Manchester from Liverpool, Wigan, Blackburn, Chester, Hazel Grove and Macclesfield – as well as into Manchester airport from central Manchester, Liverpool and Warrington Central. There will also be a new direct service from Chester to Leeds.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber, there will be more services between Bradford and Manchester and Bradford and Leeds, as well as new direct links from Bradford to Wakefield, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Manchester Airport.

More services will run between Harrogate and Leeds, Halifax to Manchester, and Leeds to Lancaster via Skipton. This will be boosted by more modern trains between Leeds and Doncaster, new electric trains between Skipton and Ilkley, and brand new diesels on the Hull-Doncaster-Sheffield route.

There will also be new direct links from Bridlington and Beverley to Leeds.

Arriva has pledged to add more space and services on the Cumbrian Coast Line, packed with timetable improvements set to benefit workers at Sellafield and Whitehaven.

All of these improvements will be matched with better ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers.

Investment in the north

Together with the new TransPennine Express franchise, also awarded today to First Trans Pennine Express Ltd, Arriva will sit over a £1.2bn boost to rail in the north, with 500 new carriages, 40,000 extra spaces and a host of modernisations.

Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities and leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Passengers were clear that they wanted to see a transformation including a lot more newer, better trains running more regularly with a step change in services provided off-peak and on Sundays. They also wanted improvements to stations and changes to make ticketing easier – and thanks to all the partnership work by Rail North and the Department for Transport, that’s exactly what we are able to announce today.

“This is another crucial move towards devolution for the north. Rail North will now play a major role in the management and development of both new franchises, providing an excellent platform for further development and full devolution in the future. Rail North will work very closely with Transport for the North to drive forward economic growth by developing visionary proposals to deliver radically improved connectivity across the north.”

In terms of jobs and apprenticeships, the government and Arriva have pledged to recruit at least 20 apprentices each year, most in engineering; offer at least 10 students placements each year; cut out zero hour contracts; and recruit at least 30 graduates through the franchise term. It will also commit to paying the living wage, set to increase next year, and upgrade staff rooms with a £2.2m investment.


In his announcement, McLoughlin said that in 2004 – the last time these two contracts were awarded – the government “did not plan for growth”, but that it had put this right today.

Indeed, the new franchises have been welcomed by independent watchdog Transport Focus, whose passenger director, David Sidebottom, said: “Passengers will be pleased to hear that they are a step closer to new franchises and all the certainty that brings.

“They will especially welcome the confirmation of new trains, additional services and increased capacity responding to some of the most important priorities for improvement. Alongside this it is critical that issues with punctuality, provision and staffing are addressed.”

Alex Hynes, managing director for the current Northern Rail franchise, added that investment in the next franchise will deliver a rail network “fit for the growing north”, and enable Northern to play “an even greater role in rebalancing the UK economy”.

“We look forward to delivering a new and exciting experience for our customers with Arriva,” he continued, thanking Serco and Abellio for all that has been achieved so far.

“The current franchise was awarded with a ‘no growth expectation’, yet Northern has worked to provide more services, more trains and 1,000 new jobs to help manage the dramatic growth in customer demand. It is amazing how far Northern Rail has come.”


Andrew Gwilt   10/12/2015 at 08:52

As Arriva are the preferred bidder who won the franchise. Northern Rail could be renamed as Arriva Northern Trains with the more new trains added including the remaining Class 319's EMU's cascaded from Thameslink (GTR) and the Class 230's DEMU.

Chris M   12/12/2015 at 02:12

No Andrew, you are just guessing. Unlikely to be any more 319s for Northern and there will be no 230s. Additional DMUs will come from Scotrail and Great Western.

Michael Still   28/12/2015 at 15:12

I hope this is true that Alex Hynes is the MD for the Arriva franchise. This is good news because he has done a great job with Northern Rail to date and as he has done in the past. There is a lot to be done in the future and I Know he is the right man. Good luck Alex.

Lutz   23/01/2016 at 23:00

They look to have over promised; how will they pay for this? There are looking for substantial growth, above current projections; will they be making substantial cuts to operational costs as part of their plans?

Ken Passey   29/03/2016 at 21:43

Can I ask will the northern rail grotesque purple colour be replaced by arriva with a brighter colour scheme? I hope so. Cheers

Pat Lockwood   03/04/2016 at 12:46

no Michael Still, Ales Hynes has not done a great job with northern rail because as a disabled person I am not allowed on northern rail trains on my mobility scooter and yet I am allowed on local arrive buses

John , Leeds   11/04/2016 at 22:36

This is all well and good but has nobody taken into account that all this equipment is foreign sourced, what about British jobs,no wonder British Steel is in such a parlous position. Personally I would much rather travel in British built trains

Tom Harris   08/05/2016 at 15:35

All bullshit.!!.Get the railways back in public ownership! Why should the taxpayer pay twice for rail travel and finance a private company to make money! It's absurd and the public are getting conned!

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