The government has revealed that rail company Northern only has the finances to continue operating "for a number of months".
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced he is evaluating a proposal from the train operator on options for continuing its franchise, with the process potentially resulting in the government taking control of services.
Arriva Rail North, which operates Northern services, apologised to customers for ongoing disruption.
The company has faced a range of issues in recent years, such as widespread cancellations amid the introduction of new timetables.
A final decision on the future of Northern will be taken later this month.
Speaking on Northern’s services, Mr Shapps said: "Passengers in the North have had to put up with unacceptable services for too long.
"We understand how frustrating this has been for people and we are taking action to make sure that performance improves.
"Following completion of this process I will consider whether to award Arriva Rail North a short-term management contract or whether to ask the Department of Transport's own operator of last resort to step in and deliver passenger services."