Speculation is mounting that train operator Northern will be stripped of its franchise by the Government.

Northern, which operates services on the Newcastle to Carlisle and West Coast Main lines, has faced growing concerns over the past year as travellers have been disrupted by timetable changes, delays and cancellations.

In July, the then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it could have its contract terminated if it did not improve.

This week, it has been reported that officials are drawing up a plan of action if Northern is removed, including putting the franchise into public control.

Transport for the North, a partnership of the North’s 20 local transport authorities and business leaders, Network Rail, Highways England, and HS2 Ltd, which works with the Government. has released a statement to confirm its position following the reports this week.

David Hoggarth, strategic rail director for Transport for the North, said: “Transport for the North is determined that passengers in the North of England should have rail services fit for purpose.

"Our members have made clear their frustration over a number of performance issues in relation to the Northern rail franchise, and while we are now seeing some new trains come into service, albeit late, there are still underlying issues that remain a matter of concern.

“Our view is that, in the event that the franchise was to become unsustainable, our absolute priority would be to put customers first and maintain continuity of services and we have shared our views with the Secretary of State for Transport.

“In order to rebuild confidence with the travelling public we are of the view that, should it be necessary, putting in an operator of last resort would be the only feasible solution for any interim arrangement.

"We’ve been clear that, in establishing any such arrangement, Transport for the North – and its members including city leaders and metro mayors – should have a strong involvement in the scope of this and in the oversight of the interim operator.”

David Brown, managing director of Northern, said: “It is on record that the Northern franchise has faced several material and unprecedented challenges in the last couple of years – many of which have been outside the direct control of Northern.

"The most significant of these are the ongoing, late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades. These have obviously had a significant effect on the franchise plan agreed with government back in 2015.

"Despite this, we are delivering on our franchise commitments including over 2,000 new services per week and delivering new trains and better stations worth £600m.

"We are well on the way to delivering our 101 new trains – twice the number we were asked to provide. Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving our customers’ experience."

Northern has recently introduced new rolling stock to replace its Pacer trains, which have been in service for more than 30 years, but there have been delays in the introduction on some lines.

Mr Brown, managing director of Northern, said: “As a result of delays in the delivery of our new trains from manufacturer CAF, we have sought approval for a small number of Pacers to operate on a handful of routes in South/West Yorkshire and the North West for a few weeks into 2020.

“This plan to retain some Pacers for a few extra weeks will help Northern ensure we maximise capacity for our customers.

"Other UK train operators are looking to retain some older trains into 2020, again because of delays in the delivery of their new trains.

“Our intention has always been to share these plans with customers. We will look after our customers, especially those who require extra support, advising them about special arrangements to help them during this period.

“By next Monday, we will have 29 of our 101 new trains in service for customers and 40 more services currently in final testing or being used for driver training. We expect to have 50 new trains in customer service by the end of the year.

“The introduction of new trains from July meant the first Pacer was retired in August, with the majority of Pacers still planned to be removed by the end of this year.”

South Lakes MP Tim Farron, who has been campaigning for better services in Cumbria, said the firm needed to improve the quality of them, not just the train carriages.

He was speaking last month after nine trains on the Furness Line and seven on the Lakes Line were cancelled due to crew shortages on the same day.

Drivers and conductors in the north west area of the Northern franchise are not contractually obliged to work on Sunday.

Mr Farron has also written to the new transport secretary, Grant Shapps, urging him to work with Northern to get it resolved.

He said: “If the Secretary of State doesn’t want to be seen as another failing Grayling then he needs to sit down with Northern to urgently address this so that passengers are able to get that reliable service that they pay for and deserve.”