So finally, Northern Rail has been de-privatised – I’m not sure simply cancelling the franchise contract, and appointing a quango to oversee the operation counts as nationalisation.
No changes will take place operationally for some time, and in so far as the infrastructure upgrades and developments are concerned, the existing projects are still ongoing. New work is still needed to cope with the existing increase in passenger numbers, and not just to Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14.
Over the past 10 years, Northern Rail – in both Arriva and Serco formats – has seen passenger miles increase by 31%, from 1,209 million to 1,606 million miles, between 2009/10 to 2018/19. Using the published ORR figures – although the most recent figures have changed to kilometres from miles.
This table is based on those published figures, Northern have received over £3 billion in direct subsidy – ironically perhaps that is also a 31% increase over 10 years, but obviously that is not the whole story, and it is more complex. There is clearly much to be done, and in some cases, work that was cancelled needs restarting.
In the same period, it appears that Northern were able to pay a little over £39 million back, as part of the revenie share.
Is that good value for money?
I would not suggest that simply transferring it into a quasi publicly owned and operated rail service will suddenly make it a profitable operation, as even in BR days, whilst InterCity and Freight were profitable, Provincial, regional services were not. Maybe we are heading back to the era where, for social, and community reasons, as well as sound environmental and sustainable reasons, we need the rail network.
Too many train operating companies, leasing stock from rolling stock companies (mainly owned by banks and financial institutions), seems to make for a complex, and bureaucratic management of train services. Quite apart from running trains, there is contract management and negotiation with Network Rail (yes I know that is governed within the franchise arrangements), inter-operation with other train operators – freight and passenger, together with day to day asset management. It seems the UK style of privatisation has added a number of layers to the running of a railway, and Northern Rail has been the most serious symptom of failure.
It will be interesting to see how this develops, and how changes to funding and management models are implemented to deliver the improvements and, hopefully success, that the private train operator was unable to achieve.
The Northern website on 1st March had this updated front page: