WITH the Government today announcing the end of rail franchises as it moves towards a more concessionary-based model, Transport for the North (TfN) has confirmed that it remains ‘committed to putting passengers at the heart of rail reform’ as it pushes for better services and a more reliable railway.

David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director for Transport for the North, said: “This is a significant moment for our railways with franchising as we know it ending after 24 years. The Department for Transport has made clear to us that our work in jointly overseeing rail operators in the North will continue under the Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements (ERMAs).

“We have seen significant progress towards greater oversight in the North, both since the timetable crisis of 2018 and throughout the pandemic. Local decision-makers have helped shape operating decisions for the benefit of passengers and this needs to continue. These new transitional contracts will help us prepare for further reform as we work towards a more cohesive railway which can respond better to passenger needs as reflected in our submissions to the Williams Review.”

Those submissions to the Williams Review, TfN Members called for the rail industry to show greater accountability, for more decentralisation and transparency, and for better integration.

TfN will continue to jointly oversee the performance and development of rail operator TransPennine Express with the Department for Transport following the announcement of new ERMAs for rail franchises announced today. TfN will also continue to jointly oversee the operations of Northern Trains Limited, Britain’s largest regional rail operator – not affected by today’s announcement as it is in the hands of the Operator of Last Resort.

Temporary arrangements at the start of lockdown enabled rail operators to continue running services, with support from Government, during a period when revenues and rail use plummeted because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The new transitional ERMAs will now put tougher performance requirements in place and reset the management fees operators are paid to run services. These new transitional contracts will also pave the way for further rail reform.

TfN, working with the Department for Transport through the Rail North Partnership and the North of England Contingency Group, has played a key role throughout the pandemic in ensuring rail services were available for key workers and essential users and tailored where possible to meet their needs. The collaboration will continue under the new transitional contracts.

David added: “Today marks another important step on the road to rail reform in the UK with new transitional bridging contracts for rail operators, including TransPennine Express. These new contracts build on the work already taking place to reform our railways and will help secure a reliable and resilient service as we move towards a simpler, more efficient and more cohesive railway. We remain locked into this work for the duration and have already made extensive submissions to the Williams Review which will help inform the White Paper on rail reform which we understand will be published once the path through the Coronavirus pandemic is clearer.

“We now have a reliable railway service for the first time in years – albeit operating at reduced levels. As services ramp up it is vital that these new levels of reliability are maintained – but we recognise there will be challenges.”