North East leaders have welcomed the decision to nationalise TransPennine Express, after passengers were left to endure “appalling” train services.
The Government announced on Thursday morning that it would be taking the struggling operator’s services under public control as a result of months of major cancellations. Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP for Newcastle North, called the downfall of TransPennine Express (TPE) a “sorry episode” and said passengers had “born the misery of a shambolic private operator for too long”.
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll had previously lobbied for TPE owner First Group to be stripped of its contract – but warned that the Department for Transport’s decision will not solve the region’s rail problems.
He said: “People across the North have been suffering appalling services from TPE for years. I’ve heard of people having to get taxis from Manchester airport to Newcastle because trains were cancelled at short notice.
“I’ve been lobbying TransPennine to improve, and lobbying the Secretary of State not to renew their franchise, along with my fellow Labour mayors Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Tracy Brabin and Oliver Coppard. We use the trains, we talk to our people – we knew what needed to happen.
“The Secretary of State has listened to us, changed his position, and decided to bring TPE back into public control. We also need to settle the industrial disputes so rail workers’ pay can keep up with inflation – it’s not too much to ask.
“This is good news for passengers. But unless we get more investment in our railways we won’t fix the underlying problem.”
Mr Driscoll has promised to build a “total transport network” integrating different forms of travel if he is elected to the new North East mayor role next year, with an election due next May under a £4bn devolution deal.
His rival in the Labour selection race for that role, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, said that the nationalisation of TPE was “better late than never”. She added: “TransPennine has been failing the people of the North for far too long. We need reliable, affordable, safe services that are designed to suit the people that use them.”
The running of TPE services will be put in the hands of the Government’s Operator of Last Resort from May 28. Latest figures show that one in six TPE services in March were cancelled, with the operator having struggled amid a dispute that has led to drivers no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
Ms McKinnell said: “Passengers across the North have been let down for far too long by unreliable, disconnected and expensive train services. Whilst I welcome that the contract has been removed, the Government have been too slow to act and our communities have been let down as a result, harming businesses, passengers and our economy.”
Tory transport secretary Mark Harper said he was “clear that passenger experience must always come first”, but warned that nationalisation of TPE was “not a silver bullet”. Graham Sutherland, chief executive of TransPennine Express owner FirstGroup, insisted the company has “worked extremely hard to improve services”.
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