Impact of nationalising TransPennine services ‘down to unions’ – rail minister

The decision to nationalise TransPennine services was announced on May 11 (Danny Lawson/PA)
The decision to nationalise TransPennine services was announced on May 11 (Danny Lawson/PA)

It is “down to the unions” whether nationalising TransPennine Express train services improves performance, the rail minister has said.

Huw Merriman told the PA news agency that bringing the operation of services under Government control on Sunday was a “reset moment”.

Services are now running under a new brand named TransPennine Trains, which is part of the Department for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort.

Passengers will not notice any other immediate differences as the trains, fares, timetables and staff are unchanged.

They have suffered from widespread delays and cancellations over the past year.

Industry figures show TransPennine Express – which ran trains across northern England and into Scotland – cancelled the equivalent of one-in-seven services in the first four weeks of April, more than any other operator.

Its reliability was badly affected by drivers who are members of the Aslef union no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Asked if nationalisation would improve performance, Mr Merriman said: “That will be down to the unions, because if they allow their workforce to work in the manner they were a couple of years ago – when things were nothing like as bad as they have been in recent months – then we will get the service back up and running again for the passengers.

“We have a reset moment in terms of new management.

“What we hope this now leads to is a reset moment by the unions to allow their workforce to work rest days in the manner they did previously.

“Then we’ll have more services that we can put on, and fewer cancellations.”

When the decision to nationalise TransPennine services was announced on May 11, Aslef said the Government had “at last done the right thing” and claimed the FirstGroup-owned company’s “inept management” was to blame for its “many problems”.

FirstGroup boss Graham Sutherland insisted the operator “worked extremely hard to improve services”.

Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “Passengers will want to see a much more reliable service, whichever organisation runs TransPennine Express rail services, under whatever contractual arrangements.

“It’s clear that passengers deserve better, and the new operator needs to take action to improve performance and build back passenger trust.”

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin described the end of “failing railway operator TransPennine Express” as “a fresh start for commuters and passengers in the North”.

She added: “We know that change is not going to happen overnight, but this is an important reset moment, and I look forward to working with the new operator, unions and other key players to improve services, boost our economy and build a better-connected West Yorkshire.”

The Government already has responsibility for services operated by London North Eastern Railway (LNER), Northern and Southeastern.

FirstGroup continues to run Avanti West Coast, Great Western Railway, South Western Railway, Hull Trains and Lumo.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper faced calls to nationalise Avanti West Coast services last year due to major disruption, but handed the operator a six-month contract extension in March after performance improved.