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Friday 3rd
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Labour hits out at redacted franchise agreement imposing targets on Northern

MINISTERS should cast off their “veil of secrecy” and come clean about targets imposed on rail operators for driver-only trains, Labour said yesterday.

Department for Transport (DfT) chiefs have redacted parts of their agreement with franchisee Northern, keeping a lid on the number of trains the company is required to operate via the unsafe scheme.

Rail union RMT is now in dispute with three operators after they failed to give assurances over the future of guards on the network.

The issue has been at the centre of the long-running Southern dispute, where both guards and drivers have walked out over the expansion of driver-only operation. Merseyrail has now ordered trains without guard-operated doors.

The government’s “invitation to tender” for the Northern franchise said that 50 per cent of route miles on the network should be converted to driver-only operation by 2020.

But while the franchise agreement between the DfT and Northern’s owner Arriva includes mentions of such targets, it says specific numbers have been removed “because the director general [of the DfT’s rail executive] or Secretary of State has decided to exclude the text in accordance with … the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told the Star: “The lack of transparency involved in franchising helps explain why the public have no confidence in how our railways are run.

“The opaque nature of the agreements between train operating companies and the DfT only adds to the uncertainty faced by disabled passengers who risk losing their ability to spontaneously travel with the expansion of driveronly operation.”

Mr McDonald reiterated Labour’s call for the railways to be renationalised, saying bosses should be “up-front” about changes to services.

“It’s certainly not in the interests of passengers or staff for important information about services to be kept behind a veil of secrecy,” he added.

The agreement says that certain trains should have a second member of staff on board “for the purposes of customer service and/or revenue control” but again the specifications for which trains this refers to is redacted.

Northern did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment.