It is thought that Boris Johnson is preparing to hand leaders in the north responsibility for train services as part of a big industry shakeup.
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is due to announce the plan shortly.
If correct, responsibility for two of the rail franchises that operate in the ‘northern powerhouse area’ will be devolved from Whitehall. It is unclear whether the franchises will be taken over by Transport for the North, a body founded last year, or another new organisation. Whichever it is, the new body would have funding and commissioning powers similar to Transport for London in the capital.
TransPennine and Northern Rail are the two franchises that operate in this area. Both are struggling.
Northern was one of the firms worst affected by the May timetable chaos last year, when a change to train times led to thousands of delays and cancellations and instances of overcrowding. It is the UK’s most heavily subsidised rail franchise. It received £675m of taxpayers’ cash in 2017-18, including money paid to Network Rail to maintain and upgrade the tracks. Some fear it might collapse within a year.
TransPennine received £158m from the government. Last year, FirstGroup wrote off £106m, admitting it would not make a profit.
If this change goes ahead, it is thought to be part of Boris Johnson’s plan to woo northern voters. Shortly after he became Prime Minister Boris Johnson lent his support to the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail plan, which would link Liverpool and Manchester with Leeds and Hull. People in Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Grimsby can only hope that their rail lines are improved by this project too.