TransPennine Express brought under government control after passengers suffer ‘continuous cancellations’
It comes after passengers endured widespread delays and cancellations over the past year
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Transport Secretary Mark Harper has decided not to extend or renew TPE’s contract and from 28 May services will be brought into the Department for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort (OLR).
The FirstGroup-owned operator, which covers an area across northern England and into Scotland, has been badly hit with disruption after drivers who are members of the Aslef union stopped volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
Latest figures show TPE cancelled the equivalent of one in six services across most of March. But Harper warned that the decision to bring services into the OLR is “not a silver bullet” and will not instantly fix problems with the network.
He said: “In my time as Transport Secretary, I have been clear that passenger experience must always come first.
“After months of commuters and northern businesses bearing the brunt of continuous cancellations, I’ve made the decision to bring TransPennine Express into Operator of Last Resort.
“This is not a silver bullet and will not instantaneously fix a number of challenges being faced, including Aslef’s actions which are preventing TransPennine Express from being able to run a full service.”
Harper added that the DfT has played its part “but Aslef now need to play theirs” by calling off strikes and the ban on rest day working.
Graham Sutherland, chief executive of TransPennine Express owner FirstGroup, said: “We have operated TransPennine Express and its forerunners since 2004, and are very proud to have served the communities across northern England and into Scotland, carrying millions of passengers and introducing new trains, new routes and more seats for our customers.
“Our team have worked extremely hard to improve services, including by recruiting and training more drivers than ever before. We have also worked closely with the Department for Transport and Transport for the North on an agreed recovery plan as well as an improved offer on overtime working for our drivers.
“FirstGroup is a leading UK rail operator with a strong and diversified portfolio. Today’s decision does not alter our belief in the important role of private rail operators in the delivery of vital, environmentally-friendly transport for customers and communities across the UK.”
The DfT put the operator on a recovery plan in February after meeting local mayors to discuss a way forward but it was decided that “the contract and the underlying relationships must be reset” to achieve “performance levels passengers deserve and that the northern economy needs”.
The department added: “The decision to bring TransPennine Express into the control of the Operator of Last Resort is temporary and it is the Government’s full intention that it will return to the private sector.”
The OLR already runs London North Eastern Railway, Northern and Southeastern services.
Responding to the announcement that TransPennine Express will not be handed a renewed contract, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said “it is absolutely right” for the “failing railway operator”.
She added: “We’ve been urging government to act for almost a year, as delays and cancellations have damaged our economy and subjected commuters in the North to sheer misery. This is a victory for northern mayors who rallied together to hold TransPennine Express and Rishi Sunak’s Government to account on this issue.
“We hope this allows an opportunity to reset relationships with staff who have bore the brunt of operator failings and look forward to hearing how the new operator intends to improve services. As the voice of passengers, I will continue to speak up for their interests first and foremost.”