TERMINATION OF the Northern franchise was the only available option, according to Transport for the North’s Strategic Rail Director David Hoggarth. Mr Hoggarth’s robust defence comes as industry sources have expressed some unease at the decision and TfN’s apparent willingness to see the franchise agreement terminated rather than agree to proposals put forward by Arriva to stabilise the business.
Speaking to Modern Railways, Mr Hoggarth commented: ‘The financial issue meant that change had to happen, and the Department for Transport had two options, as it did for LNER. The choice for our leaders was to take a view on which of those two options is going to give the best answer for the North and the view they took very strongly was that an intervention was required and a fresh start was needed.’
Mr Hoggarth also expects OLR to make some decisions, freed from the constraints of a franchise contract, that will put Northern on a sound footing ahead of the release of the Williams Review and a decision on how the next contract is organised. ‘The construct of OLR means it’s much easier to move to whatever comes out of the Williams Review as opposed to a Direct Award where you still have a franchise agreement and all the constraints that system has’ he explained. ‘We’re clear that this is not a silver bullet for all the problems of Northern, it is a mix, it is infrastructure, it is ongoing staffing issues, historic issues. All of these need tackling. We think that there are definitely some things that can be done quickly, our view and our leaders’ view is that putting more of a focus on performance and the things that would really play into building that trust with passengers and we hope that the 100-day review that Richard George and his team are going to carry out will bring that focus.’
Mr Hoggarth also defended the way what is now seen to be a clearly over-ambitious timetable plan was accepted, insisting that after three stages of review involving Arriva Rail North, DfT, TfN and Network Rail and including ‘a whole series of checks and balances with changes made along the way’ it was the fragmented system that led to a plan which the infrastructure was unable to handle. ‘We do stand behind the work that was done in the lead up to the letting of the franchise; it was about levelling up that led to the specification for the franchise but things have moved on, we didn’t know then what we know now about Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2’ he said.
In the meantime, Mr Hoggarth confirmed leaders across TfN are prepared to accept some short-term pain in the form of service reductions as long as a pipeline of infrastructure improvements is also agreed. ‘Out of this we’ve now got clarity and the opportunity to do the right thing in terms of completing the Northern Hub and all the other bits’ he said. ‘We can do some things in the short-term to ease the flow for passengers and then build the infrastructure that we do need to give the North what it deserves. One of the key lessons for us is… just doing Manchester isn’t enough – Leeds has got its challenges as well as York, Middlesbrough, Sheffield and so on.’