OPINION
30/01/2020 12:23 GMT | Updated 30/01/2020 12:24 GMT

Stripping Northern Rail's Franchise Is A Win For Passengers – But It’s Only The Start

People need to be able to trust the north's trains again, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram write.

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
Rail passengers commute on a Northern train

The announcement that Northern will be stripped of its franchise is a victory for rail passengers across the North who have had to endure years of misery and mayhem.

But, as welcome as the Transport Secretary’s decision is, it is only the first step towards fixing our railways.

The government should now commit to working with leaders across the North to deliver the vision and funding needed for the transport network we deserve. 

So today we offer Ministers five steps to truly fix the North’s railways:

The first step must be a plan to restore public confidence. Passengers need to have confidence that the basic things will happen – their trains running seven days a week, turning up when advertised and with enough carriages to ensure passengers aren’t left behind on the platform. Here in the North West we have not had a full Sunday service for almost two years and restoring that must be an urgent priority. A new operator is a fresh start to get the basics right. People need to be able to trust the trains again.

Second, we need to serve notice to Transpennine Express (TPE). While Northern’s sustained poor performance has rightly hit the headlines, for the past few months TPE’s has been even worse. They are letting down passengers from Newcastle to Manchester, Liverpool to Hull, and it is not good enough.

TPE should be set a deadline for improvement and if this deadline isn’t met then they should be the next to have their franchise removed. 

Thirdly, the government needs to deliver the infrastructure improvements it promised.

It will come as no surprise to passengers in our part of the country that central Manchester is one of the most congested parts of the UK’s rail network. In the short-term some difficult decisions may need to be made in order to reduce the number of services that pass through.

But in the longer-term, Government needs to deliver on the infrastructure improvements we were first promised back in 2014. 

Most crucial is building two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly – which will benefit passengers all across the North. 

Government must devolve more control and funding of local rail services and stations.

Fourthly, we need an unequivocal commitment from ministers to deliver the West-East Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and HS2 to the North.

Delay and uncertainty to these projects is holding up much-needed investment and risks the huge economic benefits that together they would provide to people right across the North.

No government can truly claim to be committed to ‘levelling up’ the country if one its first acts is to provide high speed rail only for London and Birmingham and then downgrade proposals for the North’s connectivity.

Ministers should accept the North’s shared demand that NPR should include a new twin track line from Liverpool to Manchester, a through-station at Manchester Piccadilly and a new line from Manchester to Leeds via Bradford. 

And they should work with TfN to fast track delivery of the whole NPR network – which would significantly reduce costs and create jobs and economic benefits earlier. If this means NPR gets built before HS2 then we are prepared to have that conversation with Government – but we need new West-East and North-South rail infrastructure and we are not going to be forced to pick between one or the other. London has never had to choose so why should we?

And finally, Government must devolve more control and funding of local rail services and stations. 

The services we control locally – Merseyrail and Metrolink – are some of the best performing in the country. With more powers and funding from Whitehall we can do even more. 

The Transport Secretary should accelerate the devolution of rail services and infrastructure on the Merseyrail network and create new locally-controlled services like the proposed ‘GM Rail’.

Taken together these five next steps provide the basis of a blueprint to renew and restore the North’s railways. 

We urge Ministers to work with us and other leaders across the North to deliver on these five things and ensure that a failure like Northern never ever happens again.

Andy Burnham is Mayor of Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram is Mayor of Liverpool City Region.