TransPennine Express Loses Contract Over Poor Service

TransPennine Express will be nationalised after customer complaints of poor service and cancelled trains. The government will now run the service which covers Manchester and Liverpool in the North of England and runs to Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland. Passengers will see no change to the service but the overall aim is to improve its performance.

Around one in six of TransPennine’s services were cancelled in March, which was the highest rate in the UK.

The Department for Transport said that TransPennine’s contract would not be renewed on 28 May. It will now be run by an “Operator of Last Resort”, which means a business will step in on behalf of the government to take over the management of the service.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said commuters and firms no longer had to bear “the brunt of continuous cancellations”.

TransPennine, which is run by the company FirstGroup, has stood out for the number of trains it has cancelled the night before they are due to run, because of staff shortages. There has been ongoing disruption since early 2022, and in January and February this year, it cancelled a third of its services.

The company has said a recovery plan was bringing the numbers down.

It has previously blamed high staff sickness rates, a backlog of driver training and the lack of an overtime working agreement with the drivers’ union Aslef.

Mr Harper said taking TransPennine under state control was “not a silver bullet and will not instantaneously fix a number of challenges being faced”. He blamed strikes by Aslef for hampering a full service being offered on TransPennine routes.

FirstGroup said it was “disappointed” by the government’s decision not to renew the contract it has run in various guises since 2004.

“Our team have worked extremely hard to improve services, including by recruiting and training more drivers than ever before,” said Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup’s chief executive. “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.”

Recent data showed that the cancellation rate on TransPennine trains hit 17% in March, including trains that were axed the night before because of staff shortages.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said: “It is absolutely right that this is the end of the line for failing railway operator TransPennine Express. 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.”

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