'I wouldn't trust them to run a bath'- MPs react as TransPennine Express loses franchise

The UK government has chosen to nationalise TransPennine Express. Credit: PA

Politicians north and south of the border have had their say on the UK government's decision to nationalise TransPennine Express.

The transport secretary said the decision was made due to "continued cancellations."

The FirstGroup-owned operator, which runs services in Cumbria and the South of Scotland, has been badly affected by drivers who are members of the Aslef union no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has made the decision regarding TransPennine Express. Credit: PA

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "In my time as Transport Secretary, I have been clear that passenger experience must always come first.

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

Tim Farron MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale is critical of the train operators performance.

He said: "The abject performance by TransPennine for many months has led to misery for thousands of passengers in Cumbria and beyond. I’m glad to see the Government finally reach the right decision and cancel TransPennine’s contract.

Tim Farron believes the government must also review Avanti West Coast's contract. Credit: ITV

“Now the Government must surely look at the woeful service being delivered by Avanti on the West Coast Main Line which is also run by the company FirstGroup.

“FirstGroup have proven themselves to be totally incapable of delivering a reliable service for passengers. I wouldn’t trust them to run a bath never mind a rail service.

“Rail travel is absolutely vital to our economy, especially to the tourism industry here in the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, and also in our fight against climate change. We’ve got to get this right.”

South Scotland MSP Emma Harper supports the UK government's decision to terminate TransPennine's contract.

Emma Harper welcomed the UK government's decision. Credit: ITV

The SNP MSP said: "Today, I have welcomed the announcement that FirstGroup’s National Rail Contract to operate TransPennine Express will not be extended beyond its core contract term period by the UK Government's Department for Transport.

“This means that from 28 May 2023, TransPennine Express will transfer from FirstGroup ownership to a new owning group, the DFT’s OLR Holdings Ltd (DOHL). Trains will still run and evidence from other OLR Holdings services shows services become much more reliable.

“DOHL is more commonly known as the Operator of Last Resort and it is the Public Sector Owning Group with responsibility for LNER, Northern and Southeastern.

“Following my campaigning on this, I hope this change will make the rail service from Lockerbie to Scotland’s central belt and to south of the Border more reliable. I will be seeking these assurances from the Department of Transport & the Scottish Government’s Transport Minsters.”

Scottish Borders MP John Lamont is optimistic that services will improve moving forward.

John Lamont MP is looking for services to improve in the Borders. Credit: ITV

He said: "I am optimistic that this move will mean more progress towards a reliable and affordable service at Reston station.

“TransPennine Express have failed to deliver for local residents who use Reston Station with services often cancelled and fares priced far too high.

“The local community campaigned for Reston station to be re-opened for decades so I am hopeful that services will now improve and residents will get the train service they deserve.

“I will continue to work with the Transport Secretary and the local campaign group, Rail Action Group East of Scotland, to ensure an improved and more cost-effective service is delivered.”

Lord McLoughlin, Chair of Transport for the North, said: "We welcome the decision announced today by the Secretary of State to bring the contract under Operator of Last Resort (OLR) for TransPennine Express.

"The TfN Board’s position on this issue has been clear for some considerable time, that services need to significantly improve. While we have seen some improvements over recent months, to achieve the performance levels passengers expect and deserve, and that the northern economy needs, there is a need for a resetting of the operation.

”We will now look forward positively to discussing with our members and working with the government to ensure the best way to achieve a service that meets the expectations of those living and working in the north.”

Graham Sutherland, chief executive of TransPennine Express owner FirstGroup, said: “We have operated TransPennine Express and its forerunners since 2004, and are very proud to have served the communities across northern England and into Scotland, carrying millions of passengers and introducing new trains, new routes and more seats for our customers.

“Our team have worked extremely hard to improve services, including by recruiting and training more drivers than ever before.

“We have also worked closely with the Department for Transport and Transport for the North on an agreed recovery plan as well as an improved offer on overtime working for our drivers.

“Today’s decision does not alter our belief in the important role of private rail operators in the delivery of vital, environmentally-friendly transport for customers and communities across the UK.”

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