WITH Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urgently looking at options for the future of the troubled Northern operator we are looking back at the different franchises which have provided railway services in South Cumbria.

A new system of regional franchises was put in place across the country by 1997 as part of the deregulation of the publicly-owned railway industry by John Major's Conservative Government.

First North Western ran services along the Cumbria Coast line and in July 2002 completed a major revamp of Barrow railway station costing £110,000.

From December 12 in 2004 to the end of March in 2016 Northern Rail operated the bulk of train services and stations in the region and was owned by Serco-Abellio.

It was replaced on April 1 in 2016 by Northern, which is part of Arriva UK Trains.

Trains run by Northern call at more than 500 stations and it is the largest franchise by the size of the area it covers and the number of services it is required to run each week.

There has been Investment in new class 195 and 331 vehicles and the Cumbria Coast Line has finally seen the back of 50-year-old diesel locomotive with bars on the doors and the bus-like pacer trains.

However, this has been overshadowed by staff shortages, industrial action, problems running new Sunday services from Barrow to Whitehaven after a 40-year gap and chaos during the introduction of the May 2018 timetable changes.

What happens next is still unclear but among the options is bringing the running of Northern's services under more direct government control.

Rail services in Cumbria started in the Victorian era from the work of a number of private companies raising finance from investors and paying out dividends from the profits made from moving people and heavy products such as coal and iron ore.

The Barrow-based Furness Railway ran its first goods trains in June 1846 and passenger services by August.

From the last day in 1922 it became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

In January 1948 this formed part of a nationalised rail network run by British Railways - trading as British Rail from 1965 to 1997.