Transport for the North welcomes OLR franchise award replacing Northern
Transport for the North has this week welcomed the news the Secretary of State for Transport is stripping Northern of its rail franchise and is bringing in the Operator of Last Resort (OLR).
Barry White, Chief Executive, said: “Our hard-pressed passengers have been calling for action for some time – as have our Members. Now, at last, we have the chance of a fresh start. Action has been taken and we can move forward. This new initiative must put passengers first and provide a reliable rail service that rebuilds trust that has been lost.
“In addition to this change, essential infrastructure is needed to reach the levels of performance and reliability we need, and we now need to see early commitment to this and accelerated delivery from Government.”
Barry said the move provides “a bridge to a better, longer term solution that works for the North” and marks “the start of a journey.”
Transport Minister, Grant Shapps MP, has said it is expected the new franchise arrangement will be formally in operation from 1 March. The decision follows a Request for Proposals issued last year with two options on the table – a Direct Award to the incumbent, Northern, under a short-term franchise arrangement – or an award to the Operator of Last Resort bringing the rail franchise under Government control.
Barry continued: “There may be some changes but we will continue to be a champion for the North’s passengers and expect to be fully involved as things evolve. We will monitor and hold the OLR very closely to account.” He said that, in making the award, the Government has stated it recognises Transport for the North’s priorities include improving the situation for passengers, improving performance and ensuring the delivery of the franchise enhancements.
“We called for this. It is good the Government has listened,” said Barry. “The DfT has also said it recognises the importance of planning for future growth and enhancements. We want to work in partnership with the operator on the development and delivery of our long-term vision.”
He said what matters first is restoring trust and confidence in the railway, increasing local input and the operator’s accountability and delivering on the Blake Jones recommendations. “Difficult decisions will be needed as we move forward,” he said, “but they should be taken with the involvement of Northern leaders – those closest to the passengers – and they must not prevent the delivery of what has been previously agreed.”
Barry also added that the move also brings the opportunity to rebase performance targets and ensure they best serve the interests of passengers. He said he also expected improvements in leadership. The Department for Transport have been clear that they are committed to delivery of the new baseline of the 2020 timetable and new rolling stock with easier mechanisms for adding enhancements where they are deliverable within the two-year Direct Award period as part of the franchise specification.
“This a significant moment,” said Barry, “it brings with it the chance of greater involvement in the way we deliver connectivity across the Region and it will be further informed as we adopt recommendations from both the Blake Jones and forthcoming Williams Review.”
Transport for the North’s engagement with the Department for Transport is already underway and the organisation has made clear it remains very much part of the team shaping change – both through its existing Partnership Agreement and through the wider rail-related initiatives Transport for the North is involved in, including the major rail programmes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, the TransPennine Upgrade and HS2.