Recent data revealed that one in six TransPennine Express services were canceled in March. The disruption has been attributed to chauffeurs, a training backlog, and the necessity to reform working practices.
The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, has announced that as of May 28, the TransPennine Express (TPE) service will be taken over by the ‘operator of last resort’, a government-owned corporation that acquires railway franchises.
It means that the government will manage it effectively.
“The decision follows months of significant disruption and regular cancellations across TransPennine Express’s network, which has resulted in a significant decline in confidence among passengers who rely on the trains to get to work, visit family, and go about their daily lives,” the government said in a statement announcing the change.
This is 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, according to the government.
The procedure is part of the authorities granted to the government by the 1993 legislation that privatized the railroads.
TPE cancelled one in six services in March, according to Office of Road and Rail data.
It had been affected by drivers no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts, but the government also cited problems with “a backlog of recruitment and training drivers [and] reforming how the workforce operates”
Mr. Harper stated, During my tenure as transportation secretary. I have made it abundantly clear that the passenger experience must always come first.
“After months of commuters and Northern businesses bearing the brunt of continuous cancellations. I’ve decided to place TransPennine Express in the position of the operator of last resort.”
Mr. Harper added that the decision was not a “silver bullet” that would “immediately solve several problems.” Including the Aslef union drivers who “prevent” TPE from operating a complete service.
The secretary of state added, “We have done our part, but now it is Aslef’s turn to call off strikes and the rest-day working ban and put the very fair and reasonable pay offer to a democratic vote of their members.”
FirstGroup, which had operated TPE, has also attempted to scapegoat “challenging industrial relations” for the disruption.
Following the implementation of an agreed recovery plan in February 2023, cancellations have decreased by approximately 40 percent and will continue to do so as more drivers become available in the coming 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 passenger numbers increasing from 14 million in 2004 to over 29 million before the pandemic.”
Aslef expressed disappointment that Mr. Harper was blaming them rather than TPE’s “inept management.”
The union stated, “It has failed to recruit and retain the necessary number of chauffeurs. It has mistreated employees, attempted to remove our terms and conditions, and attempted to impose changes rather than negotiate maturely.
Because of this, the company has received precisely what it deserves today.
This event has been utilized by Labour to advocate for the renationalization of the railways.
Jonathan Reynolds, shadow business secretary and member of parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde in Greater Manchester, told that today’s actions strengthen his party’s proposal to return railways to public ownership when current contracts expire.
“After months of needless harm,” said shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh.
“However, this never-ending cycle of incompetent private operators failing passengers demonstrates that the Conservatives’ rail system is fundamentally flawed.”
MPs representing constituencies impacted by service disruptions have praised the action regardless of political affiliation.
David Mundell, Tory representative for Dumfriesshire in southern Scotland, stated, “Having lobbied for this result, I applaud it.” My constituents in Lockerbie have received appalling service, and I had little hope it would improve.
Andy McDonald, the Labour representative for Middlesbrough in Teesside, exclaimed, “Finally! It is puzzling as to why this government has allowed this wretched service to exist for so long.
But thankfully, they have finally heeded what northerners have been saying for years.
Tracy Brabin, the Labour mayor of West Yorkshire, stated that the decision was “absolutely correct” and that she is eager to “hear how the new operator plans to enhance services.”