Struggling TransPennine Express to be stripped of its contract

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has today confirmed he will not renew or extend TransPennine Express’s (TPE) contract at the end of this month.

The decision to bring the train company into Operator of Last Resort (OLR) from 28 May – meaning it will be run by the Government – follows months of significant disruption and regular cancellations across TransPennine Express’s network, which has damaged passenger confidence.

Alongside the train operating company, the Government’s Department for Transport (DfT) says it has taken steps to improve services, putting the operator on a recovery plan in February and meeting with regional Mayors to discuss a way forward.

The Government says while some improvements have been made over the past few months, it has been decided that “to achieve the performance levels passengers deserve, and that the Northern economy needs, both the contract and the underlying relationships must be reset.”

It notes that a significant number of problems facing TransPennine Express have stemmed from matters out of its control.

These include a backlog of recruitment and training drivers, reforming how the workforce operates and most notably, ASLEF’s decision to withdraw rest day working – preventing drivers from taking on overtime shifts and filling in gaps on services.

The DfT stresses its 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.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper

And it has warned that today’s decision will not instantaneously resolve the challenges being faced on the lines.

The Transport Secretary has asked the department to review services in the North to help drive efficiency and find better ways to deliver for passengers across the region.

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.

“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 – once again highlighting why it’s so important that the railways move to a seven-day working week.

“We have played our part, but ASLEF now need to play theirs by calling off strikes and the rest day working ban, and putting the very fair and reasonable pay offer to a democratic vote of their members.”

Under Operator of Last Resort, services will run as normal with no changes to tickets, timetables or planned services.

TransPennine Express is run by the company FirstGroup. Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup chief executive, today said: “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 DfT 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.”