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Passenger protest calls for Northern to lose rail franchise

The event was organised by campaign group Northern Resist.

A demonstration was held in Manchester calling for Northern to lose its franchise (Danny Lawson/PA)
A demonstration was held in Manchester calling for Northern to lose its franchise (Danny Lawson/PA)

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

Rail passengers held a protest calling for train operator Northern to lose its franchise.

Around 30 people gathered outside Manchester Victoria station during the Thursday night rush hour to voice their anger at the firm’s poor performance.

They held banners demanding No More Northern and one carried a placard urging the Government to Cancel Northern, Not Our Trains.

The event was organised by campaign group Northern Resist.

Northern needs stripping of their franchise Kate Anstee of Northern Resist

Protesters handed over a list of demands to onlooking Northern rail staff, which included not putting up fares next month and reducing ticket prices on the routes with the worst punctuality.

The demonstration was scheduled to coincide with campaigning for next week’s General Election.

Kate Anstee of Northern Resist told the PA news agency: “We need to get our message across to the political parties that the infrastructure needs changing and Northern needs stripping of their franchise.”

The 36-year-old social justice advocate described Northern’s performance as “abysmal” and said travelling on its network was “mentally and physically exhausting every single day”.

Ms Anstee, who pays more than £2,100 a year for an annual ticket so she can travel to work from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, to Swinton, Greater Manchester, said four people fainted on overcrowded rush hour trains last week, while a leaking train toilet on Monday caused damage to people’s bags and footwear.

Repeated delays and cancellations are causing anxiety and stress leading to panic attacks, she explained.

Jordan Hajian, another angry passenger who attended the protest, accused Northern of timetabling services “they know they can’t run”.

The 20-year-old from Rochdale, Greater Manchester said: “A lot of the time they know they’re going to cancel these trains about four days in advance, so why don’t they make that public?”

He added: “Their communication is non-existent. They don’t care. They’re not interested.”

Northern issued a statement ahead of the demonstration stating that it would work with the passengers and British Transport Police “to help facilitate a peaceful protest”.

The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 saw up to 310 Northern trains a day cancelled, and punctuality and reliability problems continue to blight the network.

Office of Rail and Road figures show just 55.8% of Northern trains arrived at stations within one minute of the timetable in the 12 months to November 9, compared with the average across Britain of 65.3%.

German-based Arriva holds the Northern franchise, which is due to run until March 2025.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has taken the first step towards potentially taking the franchise away from the firm by issuing a “request for proposals”.

The Department for Transport said in October it was “developing contingency plans” for replacing the existing deal with a new short-term management contract with either Northern or the Government-controlled Operator of Last Resort (OLR).

Northern says it has faced unprecedented challenges which were “outside the direct control of Northern” such as the late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades including electrification in the North West and installing new and longer platforms at Leeds station.

PA

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