Poor service causes TransPennine Express to lose contract


Transpennine Express is a train operating company in the United Kingdom providing intercity services between major cities in England and the north of Scotland. The Company’s services are used under a franchise agreement with the Department of Transportation, which determines the Company’s terms.

The current TransPennine Express franchise started in April 2016 and was due to run until 2023. However, in March 2020, the Department for Transport announced that it had agreed with FirstGroup and Trenitalia to end the franchise agreement early. A short-term management agreement has been put in place to ensure continuity of service while looking for a permanent solution.

FirstGroup and Trenitalia have been awarded a new contract by the Department for Transport to operate the Transpennine Express services, as announced in May 2021. The new agreement is set to last for a minimum of five years, and there is also the possibility of extending it for another two years. Under the terms of the new deal, FirstGroup and Trenitalia will have to invest in new trains and improve the overall service offered to passengers.

It is important to note any developments or changes to the Transpennine Express Franchise Agreement or Agreement, as up-to-date information will be required to provide accurate details on the cutoff date. I recommend consulting official sources such as the UK Department for Transport or Transpennine Express’s official website for the latest information on the status of their contracts.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let me begin by thanking officials across the transport industry and government for their professionalism and hard work over the past weekend.

Many visited Windsor and central London to see King Charles III and Queen Camilla’s coronation.

Efficiently and safely bringing the public in took months of planning and preparation.

And, of course, special thanks to the Great Western Railway for adding additional services.

As well as Network Rail and South Western Railway, who facilitated the most significant movement of military personnel by the rail industry for over 50 years for the coronation.

This meant that the whole of the UK, indeed the world, could come together to celebrate a truly historic moment.

By Dearbeil Jordan, Katy Austin, and Tom Spiner

The government will now run the service, which covers the northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds and extends to Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland.

Although there won’t be any noticeable differences for passengers, the goal is to enhance the service’s performance.

Nearly a quarter of its services were cancelled in January and February, the highest rate in the UK.

It improved to one in six in March but was still the worst-performing train operator in cancellations.

The Department for Transport said it would not renew the Transpennine contract on 28 May.


Since I took over, I have been clear that First TPE’s service levels have been, for too long, unacceptable.

Commuters, including many honourable and right hon Members across this House, have faced significant disruption, including regular cancellations and poor levels of communication.

The underlying factors behind this vary, but what is clear is that the coronavirus (COVID-19) and industrial action have left their mark.

The driver training backlog for the first TPE now stretches to nearly 4,000 days.

This means that, at any given time, it can only attract 80% of its total driver workforce.

Add to this the breakdown of relations between operators and driver union ASLEF, and, all told, there were not enough drivers to run the planned schedule.

Inevitably, the passengers are at a loss, face to face:

Monday to Friday services have a cancellation rate of up to 23%.

Service gaps on some routes are up to 6 hours.

This needs to be improved.

A point I made directly with First Group, which owns First TPE…

And that is what my hon. Friend, the Minister for Rail did at the weekly meeting with the Rail Northern Partnership, where Transport for the North jointly manages the first TPE contract with the Department for Transport (DfT).

We will always hold the operators accountable for matters within their control Mr Deputy Speaker.

We’ll allow them to make things right.

But despite the recovery planned since February, significant challenges still need to be addressed, underpinned by a distinct lack of cooperation from ASLEF.

To achieve the levels of performance that I expect passengers deserve and that the economics of the answer requires, it is clear that both the contract and the underlying relationship need to be reset.

So I have decided not to renew or extend the contract of the first TPE when it expires on 28 May.

The government will now take over the management of the service through the Operator of Last Resort (OLR), a business move.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said taking state control of the Transpennine “is not a silver bullet and will not immediately solve several challenges”.

Transpennine, operated by the FirstGroup company, had stood by the number of trains it cancelled the night before it ran, which it blamed on staff shortages.

The rail operator’s services run throughout the north of England, including destinations in Yorkshire, the North East and Lincolnshire.

Thursday morning, I brought unsurprising news for passengers travelling on the crowded Manchester to York train line.

Chris Flanagan mentioned that he has been taking this train for 20 years, but it has always been crowded.

He mentioned some investment a few years ago, but things have been quite frightening due to the Covid pandemic.

“Most days, you can’t go to the office. [It’s] been pretty bad,” he added.

Ideology versus evidence

Mr Speaker, unfortunately, there will be those who will use today’s decision to advance their ideological agenda.

To argue that this justifies all railway contracts being brought under public control.

That would be an error.

Most taxpayers do not regularly use the rail.

But they may involve a substantial financial outlay of nationalization.

There needs to be a plan to solve the problems of just legacy industries.

Nationalization is a vocabulary, not a solution.

And this government will always be evidence-driven to help make the best decisions for passengers.

Fellow passenger Sarah Hunt agreed, saying she checks which trains are running at night and in the morning before she sets off.

But the service being nationalized “could be a good thing”, he said.

“I think Northern benefited a lot from when the operator of Last Resort took it over, so I think it could probably be quite useful.”

The OLR operates the Northern, London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southeastern trains.

Transport for Scotrail, Wales and Northern Ireland Railways was also nationalized.

According to recent statistics, if OLR assumes control of Transpennine’s contract, the nationalized Company could run over 20% of train rides in Britain.

Nigel Harris, the managing editor of Rail magazine, said nationalizing Transpennine was little more than “political window dressing”, as the government’s control of the rail network in England has “collapsed all the franchises” due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Signed emergency contracts during the pandemic, replaced by National Rail contracts with most of England’s train companies, paying companies a fixed fee to operate services and shouldering the financial risk on taxpayers.

“There won’t be any immediate difference to how services are run, and the same old problems will continue – but now it will be the government’s fault,” Mr Harris said.

The artwork

Dear Deputy Speaker, I would like to address the issue of industrial action.

Over the months, the Railway Minister and I have worked hard to change the tone of the dispute and facilitate fair and reasonable wage offers to workers.

However, in discussions with train operating companies

RMT and ASLEF refuse to give their members those pay offers to vote.

This is despite RMT members acting overwhelmingly in Network Rail’s vote to accept a similar deal earlier this year.

Instead, the RMT voted for further industrial action….

And with ASLEF, both have called taunting strikes that will paralyze the network this week during the Eurovision Song Contest.


However, the industry must modernize with or without the support of unions to avoid permanent decline.

And, Mr Deputy Speaker, we are building unstoppable momentum for rail reforms.

I announced that Derby would be the location of the new headquarters of the Great British Railways.

And today, I can report progress against my commitments to extend single-leg fares to the rest of the LNER network.

Tickets will be on sale from 14 May 2023 for travel from 11 June 2023

And it means LNER passengers will benefit from more straightforward, more flexible and better value ticketing.

We aim to alleviate the frustration caused by high ticket prices that can sometimes be almost equivalent to a refund.


Mr Deputy Speaker, since becoming the Transport Secretary, my approach has been to listen to experts, scrutinize the evidence and make decisions in the best interest of the travelling public.

Today’s announcements show that the government has joined passengers’ concerns in the Northern.

Be bold and make tough decisions to provide better service.

And focus relentlessly on modernizing our railways while protecting passengers from the impact of industrial action.

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Marta Lopez

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By Marta Lopez


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