The UK government has announced that it will be taking over the management of TransPennine Express, a train service that operates in the North of England and parts of Scotland, due to the company’s inadequate service. The decision to terminate the contract with TransPennine comes after the service cancelled around one in six of its services in March, the highest rate of cancellations in the UK.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper stated that commuters and firms will no longer have to bear “the brunt of continuous cancellations” and that the service 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.
TransPennine, which is run by the company FirstGroup, has been known for the high number of trains it cancels the night before they are due to run, because of staff shortages. The company has said a recovery plan was bringing the numbers down and 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.
While the decision to take TransPennine under state control was not described as a “silver bullet” that would immediately fix the challenges being faced, it was seen as a necessary step to address the issues and improve service quality. However, FirstGroup expressed disappointment in the government’s decision not to renew the contract that it has run in various forms since 2004, and highlighted the important role of private rail operators in delivering 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 cancelled the night before due to staff shortages. West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin supported the government’s decision, stating that it was “absolutely right” and that it presented an opportunity to reset relationships with staff who have borne the brunt of operator failings. She also expressed hope for improvement in services under the new operator.