The Transport Secretary has today (11th May) announced he will not renew or extend Transpennine Express’s (TPE) contract at the end of the month, bringing the company into Operator of Last Resort (OLR) from 28th May.
The decision follows months of significant disruption and regular cancellations across Transpennine Express’s network, which has 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.
Alongside the train operating company, the Department has taken steps to improve services, putting the operator on a recovery plan in February and meeting with local Mayors to discuss a way forward. 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.
While making the decision to bring Transpennine Express into Operator of Last Resort, the Department recognises that a significant number of problems facing Transpennine Express stem 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 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.
In light of this, today’s decision will not instantaneously resolve the challenges being faced on the lines but will provide an opportunity to reset relationships between the operator, staff, trade unions and passengers. As part of this and in response to stakeholders’ calls for action, the Transport Secretary has asked Department for Transport to review services in the North to help drive efficiency and find better ways to deliver for passengers across the region. He also asks all interested parties, including the Northern Mayors and Transport for the North, to engage with the Government on this work.
The Government continues to urge the union to call off upcoming strikes and the rest day working ban.
Transport Secretary, Mark 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 with the Department committed to ensuring a seamless transition for passengers.
The decision on Transpennine Express comes as LNER today announced, after a successful trial, single leg pricing will be extended across most of their network from the 11th June with tickets going on sale this Sunday. From mid-June, LNER passengers will benefit from simpler, more flexible, and better value ticketing as part of the Government’s plans to improve services for passengers and bring the railways into the 21st Century.
Single Leg Pricing – which consists of removing return tickets in favour of single-leg tickets priced at around half the cost of the old return ticket – will simplify outdated and complicated ticketing practices. This means people will no longer have to choose between buying a return ticket, which may not suit their plans, or taking the risk of buying two singles which could individually cost just £1 less than a return. For example, a person wanting to buy an off-peak single from Peterborough to Newcastle on the day of travel will now pay £63.70 as opposed to £121.50 – saving almost £60.
This follows on from the Secretary of State setting out his ambition for the rail sector at the George Bradshaw Address earlier this year reiterating his commitment to modernising the railways to ensure their commercial and financial sustainability for years to come.