A RAIL union has called for the Government to bring a York-based rail franchise back under public ownership, citing speculation that it is in serious financial difficulties.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs' Association) union, says he has been "picking up on credible rumours" that Northern Rail is likely to follow Virgin East Coast in handing its franchise back to the government.

“The government must act now and put passengers first,” he claimed. “By all accounts Northern is failing and therefore can’t be allowed to stagger on for months causing yet more misery for passengers."

A Department for Transport spokesman said that at a time when performance was improving and brand-new trains were being rolled out to replace unpopular and dated Pacers, change could result in significant disruption.

“We see no reason at this stage to consider making changes to the franchise,” he said, adding that the DfT closely monitored all train operators.

“We do not speculate on the financial health of any particular franchise, but expect all franchises to meet their contractual commitments,” he said.

“Where a franchise is found to be at fault we will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

A Northern spokesman said the North deserved the best possible rail service and it was working hard to improve performance and reliability.

“Northern has faced unprecedented challenges during the past two years, particularly the unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change, which is well documented,” he said.

“This was caused by delays to, and late delivery of, infrastructure projects which were outside of our control.

“We have apologised to our customers for the pain caused last year and have since delivered two successful timetable changes which introduced many more new services and, crucially, significantly improved performance.

“Since the start of the franchise, we have made a large number of other improvements.

“We are investing heavily in new and refurbished trains, have introduced more than 2,000 extra services each week.”

Northern Rail, based in Rougier Street, runs a network of services across the north, including trains between York and Harrogate.