THE government has formally signalled the premature end of the current Northern rail franchise which runs the majority of train services in East Lancashire.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs that the existing nine-year contract due to last until March 2025 ‘will only be able to continue for a number of months’.

He confirmed the government was no examining whether to give current operator Arrive Rail North a short-term management contract or take the under-fire franchise into public ownership pending the results of a review of the national rail system.

The franchise covers the East Lancashire Line from Preston through Blackburn and Burnley to Colne and trains from Clitheroe to Manchester.

Mr Shapps said: “Rail passengers in the north have had to put up with unacceptable services for too long.”

The cabinet minister said he had made his announcement on the basis of ‘the most recent available financial information’ and promised a decision on the franchise's future by the end of the month.

Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen Council deputy leader add Transport for the North board member, said: “My view, and that of TfN, is that Northern should be taken into public ownership as an operator of last resort as soon as is reasonably practical to maintain a train service

“Northern’s performance has never recovered from the disastrous 2018 timetable changes.”

Chris Burchell, Arriva’s managing director of UK trains, said: “What is needed is a new plan.

"That is why the Government asked us to prepare a business plan for a shorter ‘Direct Award’.”