TransPennine Express (TPE) needs a “fresh start” after nearly a quarter of trains were cancelled between February and March, mayors in the north of England have said.
The Labour mayors of West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Manchester, Liverpool and North of Tyne have asked the Government not to renew FirstGroup’s contract to run the service when their deal expires on May 28.
In a joint letter to transport secretary, Mark Harper, the mayors said a new FirstGroup contract would be “rewarding failure and be a betrayal of passengers in the north”.
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The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said the FirstGroup-owned company’s cancellation score for the four weeks to March 4 worsened from 7.2% to 23.8% when adjusted to include pre-cancellations due to a shortage of train crew.
The letter said: “We are of the unanimous view that TransPennine Express needs to start afresh under new ownership.”
It added: “We urge you to put the views of the passengers of the North ahead of any other considerations when making the decision on the future of TransPennine Express.
“Rail passengers have had enough. The Northern economy has had enough, the failure of TPE is holding us back. We need change now.”
TPE passengers have suffered from widespread delays and cancellations over the past year.
The operator, which covers an area across northern England and into Scotland, has been badly affected by drivers no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: “Cancellations are now down by around 40% since our recovery plan was introduced.
“However, in order to further substantially reduce cancellations for customers and all those who depend on the north’s connectivity, we have been trying to secure an overtime pay deal with Aslef for drivers who wish to volunteer for additional shifts.
“Restoring overtime working for drivers at TPE will in turn, if implemented and used in the same way as before, significantly accelerate training and reduce cancellations within days of the overtime deal being enacted, which is exactly what our customers need.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Ministers have been previously clear that the recent level of service provided by TransPennine Express is unacceptable and that all options remain on the table. “We are working closely with train operators to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum and long-term solutions are put in place for passengers, including the swift recruitment and training of new drivers.”