Leaders praise decision not to renew beleaguered rail operator’s contract
News that TransPennine Express (TPE) will not have its contract extended at the end of this month has been broadly welcomed by regional leaders who have been frustrated by months of disruption to the network.
But the Department for Transport has warned the move is not a “silver bullet” and will not immediately fix some of the problems faced on these railway lines.
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’ve been urging Government to act for almost a year, as delays and cancellations have damaged our economy and subjected commuters in the North to sheer misery.
“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.”
South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, added: “I hope this marks the end of a year, effectively, of misery for rail passengers in the North. It’s hard to overstate the impact that the failure of TPE has had on people, stranded and let down by cancelled trains they should be able to rely on.
“At the height of the disruption, some days we saw half of our trains cancelled, often at the last minute. Despite repeated efforts to work with TPE to resolve the problems, the service continued to fall short of a functioning rail network, with around a quarter of trains regularly cancelled at the last minute.
“As well as the personal misery caused to thousands of people, our unreliable rail connections across the North hold back our efforts to boost our economy, stopping people from getting to work and limiting investment.
“The new operator will inherit all the same problems TPE have faced. It’s now the responsibility of Government to ensure effective management in place to solve those problems.”
Lou Cordwell, chair of the Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP), also welcomed the Government’s decision, saying: “The consistently poor performance of TransPennine Express has caused significant damage to the economy of our city-region.
“The result of thousands of cancelled services is cancelled events, lost sales, and a decline footfall in our towns and city centres. The estimated cost to the North is almost £4m a week in lost productivity.
“This has come at a time of unprecedented difficulty for businesses, who can ill afford to deal with the additional challenge brought on by an inadequate rail service.”
Henri Murison, Northern Powerhouse Partnership chief executive, warned stripping TransPennine Express of its contract was not a quick fix.
He said: “There is action short of strike action on TransPennine Express, preventing the use of the newly agreed Rest Day Working agreement, and I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Operator of Last Resort to prevail on them to agree to the union requests on working conditions agreements being followed in full.
“I am hopeful Aslef would then allow drivers to come in and help train colleagues waiting to be able to go out on the network so we can stop the short notice cancellations much more rapidly.
“In the end, whether a franchise overseen is run by the Operator of Last Resort or a private company, the Secretary of State is the ultimate decision maker on every major issue. It is in his gift also to resolve the drivers wider pay dispute.
“I won’t be celebrating anything until the Government gets all the remaining issues resolved with Aslef, something which if I was in their shoes I would have done two Secretaries of States ago.”