Public sector transfer: Northern’s No 319375 negotiates the Castlefield Corridor in Manchester on 14 September 2019 with the 16.02 Hazel Grove to Blackpool North service.

OLR takeover for Northern

The Government’s Operator of Last Resort will take over the Northern franchise from Arriva on 1 March.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had already confirmed the franchise was no longer financially sustainable, which either result in OLR taking over or a short-term management contract being awarded to Arriva. Arriva’s Northern franchise began on 1 April 2016 for a nine-year term; OLR is already running the East Coast franchise as LNER.

Mr Shapps promised that ‘real and tangible improvements’ would be delivered ‘as soon as possible’. Among these are removal of Pacer trains, a deep clean of the current fleet, trialling of new technology to identify crowding pinch points, platform extensions at 30 stations and work to improve reliability of Sunday services.

Robin Gisby and Richard George, who lead OLR, have been asked to prepare a plan for the first 100 days of the operation, with the scope including operational management, rostering patterns and customer experience. A new North West Recovery Task Force, co-ordinated by Network Rail, will deliver recommendations on how best to boost capacity and performance in the short, medium and longer term. OLR will also work with NR to build ‘a comprehensive new masterplan to review congestion around Manchester’, which will include assessment of the Castlefield corridor as well as key junctions and interactions across the wider network, developing a series of interventions to deliver the improvements required.

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