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UK set to end Arriva’s Northern rail franchise

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will bring to an end the Northern Rail franchise run by Deutsche Bahn’s Arriva due to its “completely unacceptable” performance, Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Thursday.

Shapps told BBC TV he was no longer willing to tolerate the high level of delays and cancellations suffered by rail customers in the north of England, the latest problem to hit Britain’s ailing network.

“I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I am taking action,” he said of a contract that was due to run until March 2025.

Asked if that meant he would strip Northern of the franchise he said: “(That is) absolutely the case. I do not think that the service being operated on Northern … is anywhere near acceptable.”

Britain privatized its rail services in the 1990s, with rail routes grouped into franchises and run by private operators for around 10 years, and the infrastructure managed by the state-backed Network Rail.

The model has been attacked by passengers, unions and politicians, who have said it results in expensive, overcrowded and unreliable services.

The government has had to take over the running of some lines in recent years after private companies failed to turn a profit. The Scottish government said recently it would use a break clause to end its rail franchise provided by Dutch group Abellio.

Northern, which operates services throughout the north of England, has had to apologise for late running and cancelled trains, and problems with introducing new timetables.

Arriva won the franchise in 2015 to run the service until 2025, helped by a promise to deliver new and refurbished trains, more services, improved stations and options for lower fares.

The government could strip Northern of the full 2025 franchise, or issue a short-term contract to them.

Arriva said the franchise had faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the last few years, outside its control. “That’s why the government has asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’,” it said in a statement.

“These discussions are on-going.”

(Reporting by Kate Holton, editing by Paul Sandle and David Evans)