The government is said to be plotting a break-up of Northern Rail as part of a radical plan to renationalise train services in northern England.
Northern Rail, which is run by German operator Arriva, would be split into two franchises – North West and North East – under plans drawn up by Whitehall officials, the Telegraph reported, citing industry sources.
The break-up is expected to pave the way to bring the troubled train operator into public ownership as early as 31 March.
The proposals would mark a radical overhaul of one of Britain’s biggest rail franchises serving 16,000 weekly train services to a population of 15m people.
Arriva has been asked to draw up plans for how it will make dramatic improvements to Northern’s service, which has been plagued by delays in recent years.
The latest figures from the Office for Rail and Road showed just 57 per cent of Northern Rail trains run on time, below the UK average of 65 per cent.
In October transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government was considering plans to bring the operator back under state control – a move that has been backed by lobby group Transport for the North.
Shapps told the cross-party transport select committee that he had asked for proposals to take over the franchise from the government’s so-called Operator of Last Resort (OLR).
Northern Rail managing director David Brown has played down the discussions over nationalisation, adding that the firm was “well underway” with the development of a shorter so-called Direct Award business plan for the franchise.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are developing contingency plans for the replacement of the current franchise with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the OLR.”
The renationalisation of Northern would be the would be the second time in a matter of years that the government has brought a franchise back into public hands.
Last year it stripped Virgin Trains East Coast of its contract after the operator ran out of money trying to keep up with payments. That was replaced by London North Eastern Railway, which is run by the OLR.
Main image credit: Arriva