NORTHERN Rail will continue running services across the north — so long as it meets tough new targets for punctuality, reliability and passenger satisfaction, the government has said.

The train operator has signed a new deal with the Department for Transport (DFT), which will see it keep its carriages on lines across the north until February 2016.

Bosses have promised a range of improvements as part of the agreement, including improving ticket machines, extending the availability of advance tickets, installing more customer information display boards and funding environmental initiatives.

And Northern says it is committed to working 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.

The Bolton News has been campaigning for more carriages to be put on Bolton’s overcrowded trains, many of which are operated by Northern.

Managing director Alex Hynes aid the deal was the start of a “exciting yet challenging” new chapter for the company.

He added: “The next 22 months is about being more efficient and more effective, seeking and delivering new ways of working.

“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 this 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.”

Rail minister MP Stephen Hammond said the arrangement marks the start of a “transformation” or rail services in Bolton and beyond, and will help support the government’s £600 million investment into railways across the north.

He added: “I am well aware that there is a need for action now. So I have insisted on even tougher punctuality, reliability and passenger satisfaction targets for Northern Rail.

“We will also continue to work closely with the operator to deliver additional electric trains which will strengthen services across the network.”

The deal will last until February 2016, when a new long-term franchise will be let.