Transpennine Express: who owns rail company, who are First Group, trains - what is Operator of Last Resort?

The services are being brought under government control after months of poor service

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Transport Secretary Mark Harper made the announcement to bring TransPennine Express services under government control, emphasising that this decision should not be seen as a ”silver bullet” solution to the issues.

Harper 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.”

Graham Sutherland, the chief executive of FirstGroup, the owner of TransPennine Express, has maintained that the company has made significant efforts to enhance the quality of its services.

Starting from 28 May, the Department for Transport (DfT) will assume control of TransPennine Express services through its Operator of Last Resort, which already runs London North Eastern Railway, Northern and Southeastern services.

This move will increase the percentage of journeys on Britain’s railways that are operated by nationalised services to approximately a quarter, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

Why is it being nationalised?

The government has taken control of TransPennine Express train services following “continuous cancellations”.The government has taken control of TransPennine Express train services following “continuous cancellations”.
The government has taken control of TransPennine Express train services following “continuous cancellations”.

Over the past year, there have been regular delays and cancellations on TransPennine Express services, greatly impacting the passengers using them. According to the latest figures, TransPennine Express cancelled approximately one out of every six services for a significant portion of March.

Watchdog Transport Focus said passengers have “endured an unacceptable service for too long” and that the situation is no longer acceptable. West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin supported the decision to bring an end to what she perceives as a “failing railway operator”, calling the move “absolutely right”.

TransPennine Express has faced significant challenges after drivers who are members of the Aslef union stopped volunteering for paid overtime shifts. This has had a notable impact on the company’s operations and service reliability.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the (DfT) had fulfilled its responsibilities, and now the Aslef union must take action, including ending its strikes and the ban on rest day working.

The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan accused Harper of “trying to blame Aslef – rather than the company’s inept management – for its many problems”. Whelan claimed TransPennine Express is getting “exactly what it deserves” as it has “never employed enough drivers”.

Trains run by TransPennine Express (TPE) will be brought under government control (Photo: PA)Trains run by TransPennine Express (TPE) will be brought under government control (Photo: PA)
Trains run by TransPennine Express (TPE) will be brought under government control (Photo: PA)

Who owns TransPennine Express?

Established in 1996 as part of the privatiSation of the British rail industry, TransPennine Express provides intercity train services linking various cities and towns across Northern England and Scotland.

It initially operated services between Manchester and Scotland, but its network has expanded over the years to include routes connecting major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

TransPennine Express is owned by FirstGroup and Keolis, two companies that formed a joint venture to operate the franchise, with FirstGroup holding a 70% stake and Keolis holding a 30% stake.

FirstGroup is one of the largest public transport companies in the UK and operates a range of transportation services. The company was established in 1995 as a result of the privatisation of the UK bus industry, and initially focused on bus operations and gradually expanded into other areas of transportation including rail and trams.

In the UK, FirstGroup operates bus services across various regions, including cities such as Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, and Southampton. It also operates a number of rail franchises, providing intercity, regional, and commuter train services.

Outside the UK, FirstGroup operates bus services in the United States and Canada, with operations including yellow school buses, transit services, and intercity bus services. FirstGroup also operates Greyhound, one of the most well-known intercity bus services in North America.

Keolis is an international public transport operator headquartered in France. It is a subsidiary of the French national railway company, SNCF, and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), a Canadian institutional investor.

Keolis specialises in managing and operating various modes of public transportation systems, including trains, trams, buses, autonomous shuttles, and more in multiple countries around the world. It operates both on behalf of public authorities under contract and through joint ventures or partnerships.

What is the Operator of Last Resort?

The Operator of Last Resort (OLR) is a government-owned company responsible for taking over the operations of failing or financially struggling rail franchises. It is a mechanism that allows the government to step in and ensure the continuation of rail services when a franchise is unable to meet its contractual obligations or faces significant challenges.

The OLR is typically used as a temporary measure while a new operator is sought or a different arrangement is put in place. Its primary objective is to ensure the uninterrupted provision of rail services for passengers.

When the OLR takes control of a franchise, it assumes responsibility for managing the day-to-day operations, staffing and service delivery. This includes ensuring the necessary resources are in place, addressing any operational issues, and working to improve the performance of the franchise.

In some cases, when a franchise is nationalised, the government may decide to freeze or adjust ticket prices to ensure affordability for passengers, but prices are influenced by several factors, including operational costs, infrastructure investments and government policies.