TransPennine Express to be brought back under government control due to litany of failures

TransPennine Express at Liverpool Lime Street
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The government announced on 11 May that it’s taking TransPennine Express under its control. It’s blaming persistent delays and cancellations on its lines.

The Department for Transport (DfT) will take over the running of services, which link the east and west halves of Northern England, from May 28.

TransPennine Express: last resort

Tory transport secretary Mark Harper said:

After months of commuters and northern businesses bearing the brunt of TransPennine Express continuous cancellations, I’ve made the decision to bring TransPennine Express into Operator of Last Resort.

An Operator of Last Resort is a business that runs a railway franchise on behalf of the government when the operating company is no longer able to do so. The government has stated that it plans to return the franchise to the private sector at a later date.

The DfT stated that:

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.

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And went on to say:

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.

Blaming the strikes

TransPennine Express said it had been badly affected by recent strikes over pay in the rail sector. Harper joined in the complaint, pointing the finger at the ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) union.

Labour’s Ashley Dalton was quick to remind everyone that it’s not the union’s responsibility to make up for poor management:

Of course, the strikes alone can’t account for all of TransPennine’s failures. Around one in six of its services were cancelled according to recent figures. This was even higher in January and February, rising to one in four. Many of these were cancelled the night before they were due to run because of a lack of staff.

One ASLEF member highlighted this chronic understaffing and reliance on overtime:

Andy Hourigan, ASLEF’s TransPennine lead officer, previously spoke about the company’s dire attitude toward the union:

We have problems every day because this is a company which doesn’t know how to behave properly, manage well, or how to run a railway.

Nationalisation celebrations

Meanwhile, on social media, posters were quick to celebrate the demise of the failing TransPennine Express. Nationalisation campaign group We Own It declared victory on one of its longstanding objectives:

Northern mayors toasted the fact that it would be easier to travel to and from their cities:

Finally, people pointed to the benefits of nationalising public services like train operators – and called for more of the same:

And lamented the fact that it took this long:

Nationalise it all

It’s striking that even the Conservatives – the party of privatisation – can recognise that public services are better off under government control. Sure, they posture about problems with nationalisation:

But, when push comes to shove – as it did with TransPennine Express – the Tories have to admit that nationalisation is the answer.

These are services we all rely on. Northern England and Scotland are meant to be connected by reliable transport. People should be able to get around without being hampered by constant cancellations brought about by dodgy, penny-pinching private operators.

Although the threat of re-privatisation still hangs over the TransPennine services, we at the Canary hope that day is never to come.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Rodhullandemu, CC BY-SA 4.0 & GFDL, resized to 1910*1000.

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