Following the 1992 General Election the Conservative government, led by (Sir) John Major, passed the Railways Act, 1993.
This would end almost 50 years of state ownership and management of the railways that were, at that point, under the control of the British Railways Board (BRB).
This was the most fundamental change to the structure and control of the national railway system since the “Grouping” that took place in 1923 and Nationalisation in 1948.
In 2002, following a period of “railway administration” preceded by significant problems relating to safety, funding, infrastructure maintenance and network punctuality performance levels, Railtrack PLC was “bought” by Network Rail Ltd. The majority of the responsibilities of Railtrack were transferred to the new “limited by guarantee” company.
In 1996, the freight services, including locomotives, wagons and some associated infrastructure not vested in Railtrack, were sold to the private sector. The majority of these, including Rail Express Systems and Railfreight Distribution (in 1997) were bought by Wisconsin Central and given the name English, Welsh and Scottish Ltd (EWS). Subsequently EWS was bought by DB Schenker (DBS) in 2007 and the business re-branded as DB Cargo UK in 2016.
BR Freightliner, the intermodal container transport business, was sold in 1996 to a Management Buy Out (MBO) and now operates under the name Freightliner. It has expanded to include the subsidiary Freightliner Heavy Haul coal and aggregates business. In Cumbria, in addition to EWS (now DB Cargo UK) and Freightliner, other freight operators have emerged since privatisation.
Direct Rail Services (DRS), a then subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd and now the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA), was formed in 1994 to operate, in house, radioactive flask traffic to and from installations such as Sellafield. These had been previously been operated by British Rail. In 1998 DRS moved its base from Sellafield to Kingmoor Depot, Carlisle. Since its formation DRS has expanded the range of freight services operated and has moved into the provision of vehicles and locomotives for charter and scheduled passenger services – some of these were run in West Cumbria for a while.
Also hauling freight traffic through Cumbria and the North West are Colas, who started operations in 2007. Some of their first traffic movements were timber flows from Carlisle to Chirk.
GB Railfreight (GBRf) was founded by GB Railways in 1999. It was not part of the original British Rail freight business disaggregation and privatisation. Operations commenced in 2001 and the locomotives and trains have been regularly seen operating services through Cumbria. In 2015 GBRf assumed responsibility for providing traction for the Caledonian Sleeper services from London to Scotland.
The first TOC to be sold to the private sector was South West Trains. Stagecoach acquired this franchise and began operations from 4 th February 1996. The rest of the TOC franchises followed quickly within the next 12 months or so. As far as Cumbria was concerned franchises commenced operations as follows:
|Franchise name||Franchisee||Period||Start Date|
|North East Trains||MTL Trust Holdings||7 years||2nd. March 1997|
|North West Trains||Great Western Holdings||7 years||2nd. March 1997|
|Cross Country Trains||Virgin Trains||15 years 3 months||5th. January 1997|
|West Coast Trains||Virgin Trains/Stagecoach||15 years||5th. January 1997|
|Scotrail||National Express||7 years||31st. March 1997|
The longer length of the Cross Country and West Coast franchises reflected the impact of the West Coast Main Line upgrade and associated introduction of new trains (Pendelino and Voyager) that would occur in the early franchise years.
From early in the privatisation process the map of franchise ownership began to change. From the perspective of train services in Cumbria there have been several significant changes since 1997. In 2000 the Northern Spirit franchise (and MTL itself) was taken over by Arriva Trains and re-branded Arriva Trains Northern. This included services between Newcastle and Carlisle, Leeds to Carlisle and Leeds to Morecambe via Lancaster. In 1998 Great Western Holdings sold the North West Trains operation to First Group and the franchise was re-branded as First North Western.
In 2004, at the end of the First North Western and Arriva franchises, a DfT restructuring of services led to the creation of the Northern franchise which comprised most of the services run by the previous two operators. The tender for these services was won by Ned Railways (later re-named Abellio Group) and Serco as a joint operation.
As part of this overall restructuring a new Transpennine franchise was formed out of services run by Arriva Trains, Cross Country and First North Western. This led to the transfer of some stations in the North West and Cumbria to the new franchise, including Manchester Airport, Barrow-in-Furness, Grange-over-Sands, Ulverston and Windermere stations. The train services transferred included Manchester Airport to Barrow, Blackpool, Windermere and Glasgow/Edinburgh. Northern did, though, continue to operate some services from Lancaster to Barrow-in-Furness.
This initial Transpennine franchise was won by First Group/Keolis and began operations in March 2004 as First Transpennine. The expiration of this franchise in March 2016 led to further changes with the services to Barrow and Windermere and the associated stations being re-absorbed into the new Northern franchise. The new Transpennine Express franchise has been won by First Group as a solo bidder and continues until 2023.
The Northern franchise operated by Abellio also came to an end at the beginning of March 2016. The successful bidder this time was Arriva Trains (now a DB Group subsidiary) and was scheduled to end in 2025. This franchise embraced many daytime passenger services within Cumbria including services from Manchester/Preston to Barrow- in- Furness; Barrow- in-Furness to Carlisle via Workington; Oxenholme to Windermere; Leeds to Carlisle via Settle; and Carlisle to Newcastle. The exceptions were: TransPennine Express services between Manchester Airport/Manchester/Liverpool and Glasgow/Edinburgh; Avanti West Coast Train services from London/Birmingham to Glasgow and Edinburgh and Scotrail services (see below). The Northern franchise saw the almost complete withdrawal of Pacer trains and the arrival of new Class 195 DMUs in south Cumbria, with Class 15X units being the other main traction types.
However, in January 2020, the Secretary of State announced that the Arriva Trains franchise would be terminated on 1st. March 2020 and operations transferred to the Operator of Last Resort “OLR”. This decision followed a period of operational and commercial turbulence for Northern. Poor train service performance had led to extensive customer and stakeholder complaints and pressure for the franchise to be terminated. The new OLR operation has no fixed end date and will be operated by Northern Trains Limited, although it is not yet clear if any outward commercial branding changes will be evident.
|Franchise||Operator||Current Franchise Length|
|West Coast||First/Trenitalia||2019 - 2031|
|Northern||Arriva Trains UK Ltd||Terminated 1st.March 2020|
|Northern||Northern Trains Ltd (OLR)||1st.March 2020 onwards|
|Transpennine Express||First Group||2016 - 2023|
|Scotrail||Abellio Group||2015 - 2022|
|Caledonian Sleepers||Serco||2015 - 2030|
For further reading see Bibliography
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