Northern Rail (Serco-Abellio)

This article is about the train operating company operated by Serco and Abellio between 2004 and March 2016. For the new Northern franchise operator, see Northern (train operating company).
Northern Rail
Franchise(s): Northern
12 December 2004 – 31 March 2016
Main Region(s): North West, North East,
Yorkshire and the Humber
Other Region(s): East Midlands and Staffordshire
Fleet size: 333[1]
Stations called at: 526
Stations operated: 464[1]
Route km operated: 2,695.7
National Rail abbreviation: NT
Parent company: Serco-Abellio

Northern Rail (also known as Northern) [2] was an English train operating company owned by Serco-Abellio.[3] It was the primary train operator in Northern England, and operated the most stations of any train operating company in the UK. Northern Rail also operated the Northern Electrics sub-brand on electrified services in North West England using class 319 units from Thameslink. Northern Rail (Northern) was replaced on 1 April 2016 by Arriva Rail North's Northern brand.[4]


In 2000 the Strategic Rail Authority announced that it planned to reorganise the North West Regional Railways and Regional Railways North East franchises operated by First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern. A TransPennine Express franchise would be created for the long-distance regional services, with the remaining services to be operated by a new Northern franchise.[5]

On 1 July 2004 the Strategic Rail Authority awarded the franchise to Serco-NedRailways, beating FirstGroup.[6][7][8] The franchise was awarded for six years and nine months, with a two-year extension subject to performance targets being achieved.

Serco-NedRailways' bid had assumed that some Class 142 Pacer trains would be released imminently when Manchester Metrolink services started between Manchester and Oldham. Due to a substantial delay in extending the Metrolink, it became clear that this was not going to be the case.[9] As a result, the contract signing was delayed, and the services operated by First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern did not transfer to Northern until 12 December 2004.

In May 2010 the Department for Transport confirmed that Northern had met the performance targets, and the franchise was extended for two years until September 2013.[10][11] In May 2012 the Department for Transport granted Northern a six-month extension until 31 March 2014.[12][13][14] In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced the franchise would be further extended to February 2016.[15]

In August 2014, the Department for Transport announced Abellio, Arriva and Govia had been shortlisted to bid for the next franchise.[16]

On 9 December 2015, it was announced that Arriva trading as Northern had been awarded a new franchise to run from 1 April 2016 through to March 2025.[17][18]

Before Abellio and Serco's Northern franchise came to an end, unit 158906 received a refurbishment on one of its carriages which included free Wi-Fi, destination displays that tell the expect time of arrival and USB ports on each table.[19]


Additional services

In December 2008 Northern Rail introduced an express service from Leeds to Nottingham calling at Wakefield Kirkgate, Barnsley, Meadowhall, Sheffield, Dronfield, Chesterfield, Alfreton and Langley Mill[20][21] using a Class 158 unit. The 10:17 service from Sheffield on Sundays continues to Carlisle creating a direct train service between Sheffield and Carlisle for the first time since the demise of British Rail. The service returns from Carlisle at 15:10.

In May 2015 Northern Rail announced the re-introduction of a direct service between Blackburn and Manchester Victoria via Burnley following the reopening of the Todmorden Curve.[22] The service operates hourly, seven days a week.[23]

Former services

Services on the route from Thorpes Bridge Junction, Newton Heath to Rochdale East Junction via Oldham, known as the Oldham Loop Line, ceased on 3 October 2009. The line was subsequently converted for Manchester Metrolink operation and reopened as a Metrolink route in 2012.[24]


Northern Rail won Public Transport Operator of the Year 2007 at the National Transport Awards and was praised by the judges for attracting 20% more passengers since 2004.[25] When the extension of its franchise was announced, Northern stated that it had improved punctuality from 83.7% in the 12 months to December 2004 to 91.6% in the 12 months to May 2010, meaning that around 200 more trains per day were on time than in 2004.[10]

In the period 15 October 2009 to 14 November 2009, Northern's punctuality was 91.1% and reliability was 92.2%.[26] Northern's passenger charter targets were 91% for punctuality and 99% for reliability.

The franchise agreement commits to a 15% reduction in delays in the first five years and to a new 'incentive/penalty regime' and a more 'local focus on performance'.[27]

The latest official figures released by NR (Network Rail) rate punctuality (PPM) at 91.9% and an MAA of 90.7% for period 7 (2013/2014) and the 12 months up to 12 October 2013.[28]

The annual report for 2012, published in March 2013, of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen[29] stated that Northern Rail transported 263,000 passengers daily. The customer satisfaction decreased to 80%. In May 2011 Northern Rail received the "Sustainable Business of the Year" award.

Rolling stock

Northern Rail operated a large diesel fleet, which was used on most services. There were also a smaller electric fleet used on shorter distance services around Leeds and Manchester and on services between Liverpool and Manchester.

Northern inherited a fleet of class 142, 144, 150, 153 155, 156, 158, 321. 323 and 333s from Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western.

In October 2006 Northern leased six former Central Trains Class 158s that had been on loan to First Great Western.[30]

In March 2007 Northern announced it would be acquiring a further 30 Class 158s from Arriva Trains Wales, Central Trains and First Great Western to replace 26 Class 142 Pacers.[31][32] Northern ended up only receiving 19 Class 158s, but did gain eight centre carriages from East Midlands Trains in 2008 that were inserted into Northern’s ex First North Western Class 158s.[33][34] Twelve Class 142 Pacers were placed in store but reactivated by the end of 2008 when they were sublet to First Great Western from December 2008 and the balance returning to service with Northern.

In Autumn 2008 five Class 142 Pacers returned from First Great Western with the remaining seven following in Autumn 2011.

From December 2008 until December 2011 Northern leased three Class 180s for use on Blackpool North to Manchester Victoria and Hazel Grove services.[35]

From July 2011 Northern received 18 Class 150s from London Midland. From October 2011, five Class 322s from First ScotRail entered service.[36]

In March 2015 the first Class 319s entered service on the Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Airport service.[37]


Class Image Type Top speed Total Routes Built
mph km/h
37 Loco 80 130 2
  • Cumbrian Coast Line (Monday to Saturday only)[38]

Loco-hauled services were operated by Direct Rail Services on behalf of Northern Rail[39]

Mark 2 Carriage Coach 6 TBC
DBSO 2 1974
142 Pacer DMU 75 120 79
  • Manchester VictoriaSouthport/Kirkby
  • ChesterManchester Piccadilly
  • SouthportChester (Sundays only)
  • Manchester PiccadillyNew Mills/Rose Hill Marple/Sheffield
  • LeedsMorecambe/Lancaster/Sheffield/York
  • Liverpool Lime StManchester Oxford Rd/Blackpool North
  • HuddersfieldManchester Victoria
  • ColneBlackpool South
  • Cumbrian Coast Line
  • NewcastleHexham/Middlesbrough
  • Bishop Auckland/DarlingtonSaltburn
  • MiddlesbroughHexham
  • Crewe/Alderley Edge/MacclesfieldManchester Piccadilly
  • Stockport-Stalybridge (one train a week, northbound only)
  • Metrocentre & NewcastleMorpeth & Chathill
  • SheffieldLincoln
  • SheffieldBriggCleethorpes (Saturdays only)
  • HullYork
  • BlackburnManchester Victoria
144 Pacer DMU 75 120 23
  • LeedsHarrogate/York/Manchester Victoria (stopper)/Huddersfield/Goole/Sheffield/Morecambe
  • Sheffield/Wakefield WestgateHuddersfield
  • SheffieldScunthorpe/Lincoln
  • SheffieldBriggCleethorpes (Saturdays only)
  • Sheffield-Barnsley-Penistone-Huddersfield

Also seen sometimes pulling Class 158s on the Caldervale line during peak time where extra capacity is needed.

150/1 Sprinter DMU 75 120 30
  • Manchester VictoriaClitheroe/Leeds/Selby
  • ColneBlackpool South
  • Manchester PiccadillyBuxton/Sheffield/Rose Hill Marple
  • Liverpool Lime StreetBlackpool North/Manchester Oxford Rd
  • Manchester Victoria/AirportWigan Wallgate/Southport/Kirkby
  • ChesterManchester Piccadilly
  • SouthportAltrinchamChester (Sundays only)
  • BlackburnManchester Victoria
  • Huddersfield- Manchester Victoria
150/2 Sprinter DMU 75 120 28
  • Manchester VictoriaClitheroe/Leeds
  • HuddersfieldSelby
  • ColneBlackpool South
  • Wakefield KirkgateKnottingley
  • Manchester PiccadillyBuxton/Sheffield/Rose Hill Marple
  • Liverpool Lime StreetBlackpool North/Manchester Oxford Rd
  • Manchester Victoria/AirportWigan Wallgate/Southport
  • ChesterAltrinchamManchester Piccadilly
  • SouthportAltrinchamChester (Sundays only)
  • BlackburnManchester Victoria
  • Huddersfield- Manchester Victoria
  • York-Knaresborough/Harrogate/Burley Park(Leeds).
  • Leeds-Harrogate/Knaresborough/Poppleton (York).
153 Super Sprinter DMU 75 120 18
  • Manchester VictoriaClitheroe
  • ColneBlackpool South
  • PrestonOrmskirk
  • LeedsKnottingley
  • Wakefield KirkgateKnottingley
  • Morecambe/Heysham Port/Lancaster- Barrow in Furness/Maryport/Carlisle (Cumbrian Coast Line )
  • CleethorpesBarton-on-Humber (Barton Line)

Also seen coupled to other trains for additional capacity, sometimes seen in South Yorkshire replacing services usually run by Pacers.

(Converted 1991-2)
155 Super Sprinter DMU 75 120 7
  • Leeds-Harrogate/Knaresborough/Poppleton (York)
  • York-Knaresborough/Harrogate/Burley Park (Leeds)
  • Leeds- Bradford- Manchester Victoria
  • Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester Victoria (Mondays to Saturdays only)
156 Super Sprinter DMU 75 120 42
  • ColneBlackpool South (Sundays only)
  • Cumbrian Coast Line
  • NewcastleCarlisle
  • Blackpool NorthManchester Victoria
  • PrestonHazel Grove
  • Liverpool Lime StreetBlackpool North/Manchester Oxford Road
  • Manchester PiccadillyRose Hill Marple/Buxton/Sheffield
  • HelsbyEllesmere Port/Warrington Bank Quay
  • Manchester Victoria/AirportWigan Wallgate/Southport/Kirkby
  • ChesterManchester Piccadilly
  • SouthportAltrinchamChester (Sundays only)
  • NunthorpeHexham (Select journeys only)
  • MiddlesbroughWhitby
  • MiddlesbroughCarlisle (Select Journeys only)
158/0 Express Sprinter DMU 90 140 35 Express services including:
  • YorkBlackpool North
  • NottinghamSheffieldBarnsleyLeeds
  • HullYork
  • Sheffield/HullBridlington/Scarborough
  • LeedsCarlisle
  • Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester Victoria (Mondays to Saturdays only)
  • LeedsBradfordManchester Victoria[40]

Also occasionally seen on the Harrogate Line and other services as a replacement for booked Class 142/144/150s etc.

158/9 Express Sprinter DMU 90 140 10 Express services including:
  • YorkBlackpool North
  • NottinghamSheffieldBarnsleyLeeds
  • HullYork
  • Sheffield/HullBridlington/Scarborough
  • LeedsCarlisle
  • Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester Victoria (Mondays to Saturdays only)
  • LeedsBradfordManchester Victoria[40]

Also occasionally seen on the Harrogate Line and other services as a replacement for booked Class 142/144/150s etc.

319/3 EMU 100 161 20 Electrified services out of Liverpool Lime Street:
  • Liverpool Lime Street–Manchester Airport/Manchester Victoria/Warrington Bank Quay
  • Liverpool Lime Street–Wigan North Western
  • Liverpool Lime Street/Liverpool South ParkwayPreston
  • Manchester PiccadillyManchester Airport
321/9 EMU 100 160 3

Also used on peak-time weekday services on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines

322 EMU 100 160 5

Also used on peak-time weekday services on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines

323 EMU 90 140 17 Electrified routes in and out of Manchester Piccadilly:
  • Manchester PiccadillyAlderley Edge/Crewe/Glossop/Hadfield/Hazel Grove/Macclesfield/Manchester Airport/Stoke-on-Trent/Manchester United Football Ground (selected matchdays only)
333 EMU 100 160 16 2000



As of 2009, Northern Rail operated 471 stations; more than any other train operating company in the UK.[43] The number fell to 462 later in the same year[44] following closure of the Oldham Loop Line, and increased to 463 by 2013.[45] New stations include Buckshaw Parkway in 2011 and James Cook in 2014. As of 2013, trains operated by Northern Rail called at 526 stations.[45]


The depots used by Northern Rail were located at:

Train Crew Depots

To run the Cleethorpes to Barton service, one class 153 is stabled at Cleethorpes overnight and is cleaned, the train crew which run the service were First TransPennine Express staff.


Pacer trains

Northern Rail operated a total of 102 Pacer trains, more than any other train operator in Britain. These were built on a low budget during the 1980s recession and the upper body is based on a Leyland National bus. Many passengers were unhappy with the ride quality of these trains, noting that they provide an uncomfortable ride, were very noisy when going around bends, and were far too small for the current passengers numbers travelling at peak-time.[46][47] One politician has even said they were not safe, but this was strongly denied by the company and the government.[48] High fares in non-PTE areas adds to criticism about what some called life-expired trains being used.[49]

Approach to fare evasion

Northern Rail had a reputation for its rather tough approach on fare evasion, and was known to take passengers to court for underpaying by a matter of pence even where the company has no concrete proof.[50] Northern Rail tried to prosecute one passenger who they claimed had tried to avoid paying part of his fare but the court case failed, costing Northern over £2,000 in legal fees.[51] The court case was believed to have failed as Northern required some passengers to carry special tickets saying which station they boarded at and tried to use that as evidence of attempting to combat fare evasion by not having passengers paying for shorter journeys than they make.[51]


  1. 1 2 "About Northern: Facts and Figures". Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  2. Companies House extract company no 4619954 Northern Rail Limited
  3. "Abellio Group Head Office" Group corporate website, Abellio, Utrecht, Netherlands, Undate. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  4. "Northern franchise awarded to Arriva" (Press release). Arriva. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  5. "The Trans-Pennine Express rail franchise" (PDF). Yorkshire & The Humber Transport Activist's Roundtable Briefing Note. October 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 October 2004.
  6. "Serco-NedRailways Announced as Preferred Bidder for new Northern Rail Franchise" (PDF) (Press release). Strategic Rail Authority. 1 July 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  7. "Rail Report No.62" (PDF). Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association. Christmas 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  8. "Serco/NED Rail is poised to secure Northern franchise". Rail (492). Peterborough. 21 July 2004. p. 14.
  9. "Rail Report No.61" (PDF). Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association. Autumn 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2009.
  10. 1 2 "Northern Secures Two Year Franchise Extension" (Press release). Northern Rail. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
  11. "Stock Exchange Announcement" (PDF). Serco. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  12. "Northern Rail granted franchise continuation". 10 May 2012. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
  13. "Franchise Continuation for Northern Rail" (Press release). Northern Rail. 9 May 2012.
  14. "Contract News Update 14" (PDF) (Press release). Serco. 14 May 2012.
  15. "Railway plan puts new focus on passengers". Secretary of State for Transport statement 26 March 2013.
  16. "Shortlist for Northern and TransPennine operators revealed" (Press release). Department for Transport. 19 August 2014.
  17. "Massive boost to rail services brings Northern Powerhouse to life" (Press release). Department for Transport. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  18. "Northern and TransPennine Express franchises awarded". Railway Gazette International. London. 9 December 2015.
  20. "Extra Leeds Nottingham Train Services Announced" (Press release). Northern Rail. 22 November 2006.
  21. "Northern Introduces New Nottingham-Leeds Service" (Press release). Northern Rail. 12 December 2008.
  22. "Celebrate The Curve As East Lancashire To Manchester Services Return" (Press release). Northern Rail. 14 May 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  23. "Todmorden Curve". Northern Rail. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  24. "Oldham Loop rail line closure" (PDF). GMPTE information poster. Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. September 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 July 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  25. "Northern Rail Wins Public Transport Operator of the Year" (Press release). Northern Rail. 16 August 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2008. The judges praised the company, which runs local and regional trains across the north of England, for its success in attracting 20% more passengers since it started in 2004.
  26. Performance figures, Northern Rail.
  27. "New Northern Rail Franchise Signed" (PDF) (Press release). Strategic Rail Authority. 19 October 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2009. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  28. "Rail performance results period 7". Network Rail. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  29. Annual report 2012
  30. "158 Reshuffle Boosts Fleet". Rail Magazine. No. 551. 25 October 2006. p. 55.
  31. Angel Trains Leases 30 Class 158 Diesel Multiple Units to Northern Rail Northern News 19 March 2007
  32. "30 Class 158's Bound for Northern by the End of 2007". Rail Magazine. No. 562. 28 March 2007. p. 17.
  33. "December Timetable Triggers DMU Cascade". Rail Magazine. No. 580. 5 December 2007. p. 12.
  34. "Train Operator's Fluctuating Fleets". Rail Magazine. No. 583. 16 January 2008. p. 45.
  35. "Third Adelante for Northern". Rail Magazine. No. 606. 3 December 2008. p. 69.
  36. Class 322
  37. "Better Rail Services Between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Airport" (Press release). Northern Rail. 5 March 2015.
  38. "Loco-hauled services to return to the Cumbrian coast". Railway Herald. 8 January 2015.
  39. "Bigger Trains and Changes Ahead For Cumbria's Coastal Rail Route" (Press release). Northern Rail. 18 May 2015.
  40. 1 2 "Northern launches first regular direct service between Nottingham and Leeds for 25 years" (Press release). Northern Rail. 15 December 2008. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011.
  41. "Yorkshire and Humber Route Utilisation Strategy Draft" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  42. "The Northern Interim Franchise Agreement" (PDF). UK Government. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  43. "Better Rail Stations – Part B" (PDF). Department for Transport. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 September 2014.
  44. Action stations booklet, Network Rail, 2009
  45. 1 2 Transformation in Partnership – Northern Prospectus, Department for Transport, June 2014
  46. "Pacer line users - RailUK Forums". Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  47. "Pacer's or Roof??? - RailUK Forums". Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  48. "MP says trains in area are 'unsafe'". Lancashire Evening Post. Preston. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  49. Siddle, John (2 January 2009). "Northern Rail, which runs the Southport to Manchester line, told to improve its services after announcing ticket price hikes". Southport Visiter. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  50. "Law student gets £1,000 bill". Yorkshire Post. Leeds. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  51. 1 2 Linton, Deborah (27 May 2011). "Commuter finally cleared over 50p train fare fraud after 11-month legal battle costing thousands". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
Preceded by
Arriva Trains Northern
Regional Railways North East franchise
Operator of Northern franchise
2004 - 2016
Succeeded by
Northern franchise
Preceded by
First North Western
North West Regional Railways franchise
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