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TransPennine Express to be brought under government control due to 'continuous cancellations'

TransPennine Express to be brought under government control due to 'continuous cancellations'

Recent data showed that TransPennine Express had cancelled one in six services during March. The blame for the disruption has been laid at the feet of drivers, a backlog of training and the need to reform working practices.

Train operator TransPennine Express will not have its contract renewed or extended, the government has announced, after "months of... continuous cancellations".

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said that from 28 May, the service provided by TransPennine Express (TPE) will be brought into the 'operator of last resort', a company that takes ownership of railway franchises on behalf of the government.

It means it will be effectively run by the government.

TPE's services cover northern England and also parts of Scotland.

Announcing the change, the government said: "The decision follows months of significant disruption and regular cancellations across TransPennine Express's network, which has resulted in a considerable decline in confidence for passengers who rely on the trains to get to work, visit family and friends and go about their daily lives."

According to the government, this is now the fourth railway to be brought under government control - following the East Coast Mainline in June 2018, Northern Rail in March 2020 and London and South Eastern Railway in October 2021.

The process is part of the powers given to the government under the legislation which privatised the railways in 1993.

Recent figures from the Office of Road and Rail show that TPE cancelled an average of one in six services in March this year.

It had been impacted by drivers no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts - but the government said there were also issues with "a backlog of recruitment and training drivers [and] reforming how the workforce operates".

Mr 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."

Mr Harper added that the decision was not a "silver bullet" to "instantaneously fix a number of challenges" - including drivers at the Aslef union who are "preventing" TPE from running a full service.

"We have played our part, but Aslef now need to play theirs by calling off strikes and the rest-day working ban, putting the very fair and reasonable pay offer to a democratic vote of their member," the secretary of state added.

The network had been plagued with delays

TPE had been operated by FirstGroup, and it too has sought to blame "challenging industrial relations" for the disruption.

A statement from the company said: "Following the introduction of an agreed recovery plan in February 2023, cancellations have fallen by approximately 40% and will continue to do so as more drivers become available over the next few months.

"The group is disappointed by the decision not to extend the national rail contract for TPE, given the investment and improvements we have made to the service over the years, which resulted in growing annual passenger numbers from 14m in 2004 to more than 29m before the pandemic."

Aslef hit back at the allegations though - saying that it was disappointed Mr Harper was seeking to blame them rather than TPE's "inept management".

The union said: "It has failed to recruit, and retain, the drivers it needs. It has abused staff, tried to take away our terms and conditions, and tried to force through changes rather than negotiate like grown-ups.

"That's why the company has, frankly, got exactly what it deserves today"

Labour has used the development to call for renationalisation of the railways.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds - who is the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde in Greater Manchester - told Sky News that today's actions reinforce his party's plan to bring railways back into public ownership when current contracts expire.

And shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: "After months of needless damage, the Tories have finally accepted they can no longer defend the indefensible.

"But this endless cycle of shambolic private operators failing passengers shows the Conservative's rail system is fundamentally broken."

The action has been welcomed by MPs representing constituencies impacted by disruption to the services across political divides.

David Mundell, the Tory MP for Dumfriesshire in southern Scotland said: "Having lobbied for this outcome, I obviously welcome it. The service provided (or not) for my constituents at Lockerbie has been totally unacceptable and I had no confidence it would improve."

Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough on Teesside, said: "At last! Why this government allowed this miserable service to limp on so long is bewildering.

"But thank goodness they've eventually listened to what people in the north have been saying for years."

Tracy Brabin, the Labour mayor of West Yorkshire, said the decision was "absolutely right" - and that she is looking forward "to hearing how the new operator intends to improve services".


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