Out-Law News 1 min. read

Northern Rail: nationalisation 'curtain raiser' for wider review

The UK government's decision to bring the Northern Rail franchise under public control is a "curtain raiser" for wider reform later this year, an expert has said.

The government is due to publish a white paper on rail reform later this year, in which it will set out its plans for a "simpler, more effective" alternative to the current franchising model in response to the recommendations of an independent review by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams.

Infrastructure expert Jonathan Hart of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "This is very much a curtain raiser for the Williams Review and the issues it will be grappling with, but we've been here before with Great North Eastern Railway and Connex SE".

Hart Jonathan

Jonathan Hart


This is very much a curtain raiser for the Williams Review and the issues it will be grappling with.

"Whilst it probably won't do much in helping fix the limitations of the current rail infrastructure across the north of England - which are responsible for many of the service problems - it may prove a considerable headache for those involved in preparing for the Budget, as the government again becomes a train operator," he said.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced this week that the government will take over running services on the Northern network with effect from 1 March 2020. Shapps promised "real and tangible" improvements on the struggling network including increased capacity, improved Sunday service reliability and extended platforms to accommodate longer trains. New technology will be trialled to identify 'pinch points' on the network, while existing trains will be deep cleaned and cleaning patterns improved.

The government has asked Robin Gisby and Richard George, who lead the public sector 'operator of last resort', to prepare a plan for the line in their first 100 days in charge. The plan will cover everything from operational management to customer experience. Gisby and George will also meet with Network Rail to come up with a plan to tackle congestion in the Manchester area, complementing work already planned around Leeds.

Staffing, fares and previously purchased tickets, including season tickets and tickets purchased for journeys using multiple train companies, are not affected by the announcement.

Shapps said: "This is a new beginning for Northern, but it is only a beginning".

"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," he said.

Acknowledging that the announcement would "inevitably raise questions about the future of rail privatisation", Shapps said it was "clear that the current model is now struggling to deliver".

"We know change is needed, and it is coming," he said. "The Williams Review is looking at reforms across the railway to ensure customers are at the heart of the system."

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