TransPennine Express loses contract due to service issues

Following customer complaints about poor service and frequent train cancellations, TransPennine Express is set to be nationalized. The government will take over the service, which operates in the northern region of England, encompassing Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, as well as extending to Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland.

While passengers will experience no immediate alterations to the service, the primary objective is to enhance its performance. TransPennine Express witnessed the highest cancellation rate in the UK during January and February, with approximately a quarter of its services being canceled.

Although there was some improvement in March, with cancellations reduced to around one in six, TransPennine Express remained the train operator with the highest cancellation rate. Consequently, the Department for Transport announced that the contract with TransPennine Express would not be renewed and would conclude on May 28th.

The management of TransPennine Express will be assumed by the Operator of Last Resort (OLR), wherein a business will operate on behalf of the government. Transport Secretary Mark Harper acknowledged that bringing TransPennine under state control is not a quick solution and will not immediately address the various challenges being encountered.

FirstGroup, the company in charge of operating TransPennine Express, has gained attention due to the significant number of train cancellations occurring on the eve of their scheduled runs. Staff shortages have been cited as the primary reason for these cancellations. TransPennine Express operates rail services across various regions in northern England, encompassing destinations in Yorkshire, the North East, and Lincolnshire.

Upon hearing the news, passengers traveling on the crowded Manchester to York line on Thursday morning expressed little surprise. “I’ve been commuting on this train for 20 years, and it has always been a bit chaotic,” commented Chris Flanagan.

According to him, there was some investment a few years ago, but since the Covid pandemic, the situation has worsened significantly. “It’s been absolutely horrendous,” he remarked.

Furthermore, he added, “Getting to the office on most days feels nearly impossible.”

Sarah Hunt, another commuter, shared a similar sentiment, mentioning that she now verifies the train schedules both the night before and in the morning before beginning her journey. However, she expressed optimism about the nationalization of the service, suggesting that it “could be a positive development.”

“I believe Northern saw notable improvements when it came under the management of the Operator of Last Resort, so I think there is potential for similar benefits in this case,” commented the individual.

Currently, the Operator of Last Resort (OLR) oversees the operations of Northern, London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), and Southeastern Trains.

Scotrail, Transport for Wales, and Northern Ireland Railways are additional examples of nationalized railway services. With the OLR assuming control of TransPennine’s contract, the proportion of train journeys operated by nationalized companies in Britain is projected to exceed one in five, according to the latest statistics.

According to Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine, the nationalization of TransPennine Express can be seen as mere “political window dressing.” He argues that the government has effectively been in charge of the rail network in England ever since the lockdowns caused “the collapse of all the franchises.”

In response to the pandemic, emergency contracts were implemented, later substituted by national rail contracts with the majority of train companies in England. Under these contracts, the company receives a fixed fee for providing services, while the financial risk is borne by the taxpayer.

Mr. Harris expressed that there would be no immediate change in the operation of services, and the existing problems would persist. However, he pointed out that the responsibility for these issues would now clearly lie with the government.

TransPennine services have been experiencing continuous disruptions since early 2022. However, the company has indicated that a recovery plan has been effective in reducing the frequency of these disruptions. In the past, TransPennine has attributed the issues to factors such as elevated staff sickness rates, a backlog in driver training, and the absence of an overtime working agreement with the drivers’ union, Aslef.

The transport secretary also highlighted that strikes initiated by Aslef have contributed to hindrances in providing a complete service on TransPennine routes.

Aslef contradicted the notion and deemed it “misleading,” asserting that the company’s “inept management” should shoulder the blame instead.

FirstGroup expressed disappointment with the government’s choice to not renew the contract, which the company has operated in various forms since 2004.

“Our team has exerted tremendous effort to enhance services, including the recruitment and training of a record number of drivers,” stated Graham Sutherland, Chief Executive of FirstGroup.

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By Ryan

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