DESPITE the Conservatives’ penchant for privatisation, it came as no surprise to anyone that the Government made the decision to take the beleaguered rail operator Northern back into public ownership last week.

Northern has been beset by problems for the past few years, leading to almost constant disruption.

That, in turn has led to the Government losing patience with the operator, which is owned by German company Arriva.

On January 29, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps released a statement confirming that the Northern Rail franchise would be taken into public ownership on March 1.

Mr Shapps said: “It’s no surprise that passengers have lost trust in the North’s rail network.

“They have had to start and end their working day facing cancellations and delays.

“I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.”

Mr Shapps also pointed out that passenger satisfaction had risen on the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) since it was taken into public ownership in 2018.

Nationalising the railway is actually quite a popular move among the public – a 2018 survey found that 64 per cent of adults were in favour of taking the railway back into public ownership.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the news has been welcomed by the rail union the RMT, which has been locked in a long-running dispute with Northern over the role of guards on trains.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, called for Northern to remain in the hands of the government for the foreseeable future.

He said: “Northern has become a signal for everything that is wrong on Britain’s broken, privatised railways.

“The return of Northern to the public domain, joining the East Coast Main Line, should not be seen as a short-term fix. This has to be a permanent move followed up with the investment and planning needed to deliver the rail services that passengers deserve after years of privatised chaos.”

While Northern has borne the brunt of criticism for the failings on the area’s railways, not everyone holds it wholly responsible.

Chris Burchell, Arriva UK Train’s managing director, blamed external factors including infrastructure and strike action.

He said: “ It was clear however that, largely because of external factors, the franchise plan had become undeliverable.

“The scale of the challenges we faced outside of our direct control were unprecedented, particularly around delayed or cancelled infrastructure projects and prolonged strike action.

“We recognise however that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better.”

Earlier this month, Malcolm Chainey, chairman of the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership, said the problems with Northern were down to Network Rail.

“Stripping Northern of its franchise will make no difference whatsoever,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea because it’s already in chaos, it’s just going to make that situation worse.”

“Grant Shapps is not going to be able to fix it by clicking his fingers.”

Northern may or may not stay in public ownership – but what is clear is that the North is in desperate need of investment in the railways.

Without it, the problems that brought down Northern will only continue.