NORTHERN Rail will continue to operate rail services across the north of England until February 2016.

The announcement comes after negotiations with the Department for Transport (DfT) proved successful for regional train operator, Alex Hynes, managing director for Northern Rail, has welcomed the news following the signing of the new Direct Award agreement with shareholders Serco and Abellio.

Northern has committed to a range of improvements as part of the agreement which includes improving ticket purchase facilities, extending the availability of advanced tickets, investing in better passenger information and funding new environmental initiatives.

During the new Direct Award period, Northern will continue to work with the DfT on proposals to deliver a fleet of electric trains into the North West, which would see existing diesel stock released to strengthen other services.

Signalling an exciting yet challenging time for the company, Mr Hynes explained how this new chapter for Northern had been shaped by the current period of economic austerity and the Government’s ambition to reduce the overall cost of rail for UK taxpayers.

He said: “The next 22 months is about being more efficient and more effective, seeking and delivering new ways of working. That doesn’t mean taking short cuts or risks. It’s about achieving a balance: delivering a safe and improved service in a new way: doing more with less.

“We’re already delivering enhancements across our network; our services are more punctual and reliable, and the commitment is there to drive further efficiency with our partners.

"Crucially today’s announcement gives us the opportunity to start consulting with all our stakeholders on the requirements for creating a step change in rail services for the North under the next long term franchise.”

David Stretch, Serco’s managing director for transport services, said: “Serco has a strong track record of providing high quality rail services in the UK and internationally.

“We are delighted that the strong performance of our partnership with Abellio, and focus on doing the right thing for our passengers, has been recognised with the award of this new contract.

“This is down to the commitment of our team at Northern Rail who work tirelessly to provide an excellent standard of service across the north of England.”

Dominic Booth, Abellio UK’s Managing Director commented: “We’ve been negotiating very hard with the Department for Transport to secure the best outcome for Northern’s passengers.

“With our joint venture partner, we will now be working hard with the Northern Rail team to bring the benefits of the extension to passengers safely, quickly and efficiently.

“During this time, our focus will also be on determining the long term rail requirements of the next franchise. This represents the real opportunity to create a rail service that will drive and sustain the socio-economic prosperity of the North of England.”

Northern has seen a 47 per cent growth in passenger numbers since the start of its franchise in 2004 with 94 million journeys made last year and has improved its moving annual aAverage (MAA) performance from 83.7 per cent to 90.9 per cent.