EAST Lancashire train operator Northern was today fighting a call for its nationalisation over poor performance and punctuality.

Yesterday the mayors of Greater Manchester and Merseyside Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram issued a joint demand for the government to take it over.

Their call was backed by Labour MPs for Blackburn and Burnley Kate Hollern and Julie Cooper as well as Transport for the North board member Cllr Phil Riley, deputy leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council.

However Ribble Valley Tory MP Nigel Evans and Cllr Geoff Driver, Conservative TfN board member and leader of Lancashire County Council, said stripping the company of its franchise would not solve local problems despite criticising its performance,

Northern operates the East Lancashire Line from Preston through Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley to Colne and the route from Clitheroe to Darwen and Manchester.

It also houses 100 staff in the One Cathedral Square office block in Blackburn and has a large train depot in King Street.

Last May thousands of trains were cancelled after a bungled timetable change leading to widespread passenger dissatisfaction.

Mrs Hollern said: ‘I fully share the concerns the concerns raised by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram.

“A number of constituents have contacted me over the past twelve months, both in relation to unreliability and overcrowding.

“The rail network is widely used by commuters travelling to and from work and unreliability is not acceptable as it inevitably impacts on the wider economy.

“The Government stepped in when these problems arose in the South-East. Their failure to do so in this case speaks volumes about where its priorities lie.”

Cllr Riley said: “I absolutely understand the frustration that led to this call. The performance of Northern after the timetable change was appalling.

“While things have improved they have not improved as much as we would have hoped. Labour is proposing bringing back Britain’s railways into public ownership. I support that.”

Cllr Driver said: “Of course Northern’s service leaves a lot to be desired and we need to sort it out.

“Simply calling for the franchise to be taken away without a strategy for what would replace it is simply irresponsible and doesn’t resolve the problem.”

Mr Evans said: “Northern must shape up or ship out.

“The interests of passengers are number one. However I am never keen on taking anything back into state ownership and there may be other operators who could do a much better job.”

Mrs Cooper said: “Northern’s service has for too long been intolerable, unreliable, dirty and expensive. I welcome this move to deliver the first-class service the people of the North deserve.”

David Brown, Northern’s managing director, said: “Since last year, we have made a large number of improvements for customers. We expect things to continue to improve.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “When performance is improving and new trains are being rolled out, change could result in significant disruption.”