TROUBLED train operator Northern Rail - which employs more than 200 people across Cumbria - is being taken into public ownership, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed.

In a statement issued within the las hour, Mr Shapps said: "I am announcing today that from March 1 the Northern Rail franchise will be taken into public ownership and the government will begin operating services through the public-sector operator - the so-called operator of last resort.

"The public-sector operator is a company entirely owned by my department and run by experienced railway managers.

"It already owns and oversee another franchise, East Coast, which it brands as London North Eastern Railway."

"I'm not surprised," said

Reacting to the long-expected announcement, Craig Johnston, a full-time official with the RMT rail workers union.

"It was a financial basket case which has been a disaster in terms of its performance, and best by industrial unrest the likes of which we have never seen before. "We will now look at the detail of what the Department for Transport intend to do with the franchise. From my point of view, there will not be any change in how Northern operates until the inherent problems are sorted out - in particular the short staffing and the over-reliance on overtime. "The problems are still there.

"My message to Grant Shapps is that MPs need to get down to the business of making it a stable, reliable, and robust rail service. We don't want any more of chaos and timetable trauma."

The ailing franchise has been repeatedly criticised for cancellations and delays in Cumbria and across the north in recent years, including suspending services for several weeks on the Lakes Line from Oxenholme to Windermere. There is also a bitter and ongoing dispute with the RMT over plans to remove guards from some services.

The franchise operates services along the Cumbrian coast, between Carlisle and Newcastle, and along the Eden Valley and in parts of the Lake District.

Earlier this month, Northern Rail announced a £100 million project to fully refurbish 268 diesel and electric trains.

As recently as December last year, Transport for the North blasted Northern after dozens of trains were cancelled in the county and beyond between Christmas Eve and December 27.

Members from the organisation said they were deeply concerned about the cancellations, amid “ongoing poor performance” and heavy disruption during the first week of the new timetable.

David Hoggarth, strategic rail director at Transport for the North, said: “It is totally unacceptable that passengers once again do not have a full service they can rely on, especially at this busy time of year.

“We have made our concerns clear to Northern and reiterated that passengers deserve better."