Transport for the North welcomes end of contract for Transpennine Express

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Transport for the North has welcomed a government decision to bring North of England and Scotland rail operator Transpennine Express under its control, following months of significant disruption.

The train operator, which connects towns and cities including Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull, Leeds, York, Scarborough, Cleethorpes, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, will be brought into “operator of last resort” on May 28, following an announcement by Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

The Transport Secretary said he would not renew or extend the rail operator’s contract, following months of significant disruption and regular cancellations across the network.

A statement on the Department for Transport (DfT) website said this had “resulted in a considerable decline in confidence for passengers who rely on the trains to get to work, visit family and friends and go about their daily lives”.

Lord McLoughlin, chair of Transport for the North, said: "We welcome the decision by the Secretary of State to bring the contract under Operator of Last Resort (OLR) for TransPennine Express. 

"The TfN Board’s position on this issue has been clear for some considerable time, that services need to significantly improve. 

“While we have seen some improvements over recent months, to achieve the performance levels passengers expect and deserve, and that the northern economy needs, there is a need for a resetting of the operation.

”We will now look forward positively to discussing with our members and working with the government to ensure the best way to achieve a service that meets the expectations of those living and working in the north.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had taken steps to improve services, with the operator placed on a recovery plan in February and meetings with local mayors undertaken, to discuss a way forward.

However, the DfT website echoed Lord McLoughlin in saying while some improvements had been made, to achieve the performance levels passengers deserve, and that the northern economy needs, “both the contract and the underlying relationships must be reset” and it will now be brought into “operator of last resort”.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper urged train drivers’ union ASLEF to call off strikes, as he admitted bringing the operator under government control would not be a “silver bullet”.

“In my time as Transport Secretary, I have been clear that passenger experience must always come first,” he said.

“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 7-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, putting the very fair and reasonable pay offer to a democratic vote of their members.”

The DfT statement noted the department recognised a significant number of problems facing the operator stem from matters out of its control, including 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”.

It added the 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.

A statement on the Transpennine Express website said customers should continue to purchase tickets in the usual way and current tickets will remain valid.

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