Northern Rail is on the brink of collapse, a union leader claimed yesterday.
Manuel Cortes, of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said he had heard credible rumours that the operator was facing a financial crisis.
Mr Cortes told his union’s conference: ‘The travelling public are sick and tired of the misery caused by Northern in the light of the timetabling fiasco last year. If Northern is financially compromised then the Government must do the right thing now and act to bring this franchise back into public hands.’
Northern and the Department for Transport rejected the claims, pointing out that £600million was being spent on rolling stock, including new trains.
The East Coast operator ran out of cash and was renationalised last year.
Earlier this month it emerged that the government’s ‘operator of last resort’ – which took control of the East Coast main line from Virgin Trains last summer – is conducting due diligence on Northern to assess whether it may have to step in again.
The intervention is said to be precautionary.
Last summer saw a timetable shambles hit commuters and profits had already slumped a third from £16.8million to £10.7million in the year to the March 21, 2018.
Speaking ahead of its annual conference in Glasgow yesterday, Mr Cortes used Northern’s difficulties to press for it to be renationalised by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
This echoes calls made last month by the Labour mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: ‘Chris Grayling has stood by as the Northern Rail franchise has been run into the ground causing chaos and misery for millions of people.
‘It’s surely time for the government to admit that rail franchising is broken beyond repair that only Labour’s plans for public ownership of rail can deliver the affordable fares and good services passengers deserve.’
Northern carries around 100 million passengers a year, and runs around 2500 services a day serving major cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.
Passengers were among the hardest hit by the timetable shambles last summer, while their journeys have also been disrupted by a series of strikes.
This has all heaped further pressure on the finances of Arriva Rail North, which is due to run the Northern franchise until March 2025.