LABOUR says Ministers have “questions to answer” over “catastrophic” plans to remove trains from Yorkshire’s over-crowded railways and hand them to operators in the South East.
Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith rounded on the Government for allowing Chiltern Railways to sign a deal which will see TransPennine Express lose 13 per cent of its fleet next year.
The deal is possible because the Trans-Pennine contract is due to expire in 2015. However, the re-franchising contest has been postponed following the West Coast mainline competition fiasco of 2012. The Government is seeking to negotiate a short extension with First – but in the meantime, train-owning company Porterbrook has leased out nine of its trains to the Chilterns.
“Because of the shambolic nature of this Government’s handling of rail franchising, TransPennine Express is at the receiving end of a catastrophic series of decisions,” Ms Smith told MPs. “It is the North that will suffer the consequences yet again.”
Ms Smith said it was already a “regular experience” for passengers travelling across the Pennines to have to stand during peak hours or when trains arrive with too few carriages.
David Blunkett, the MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said passengers are “up in arms” at the prospect of trains becoming even more overcrowded next year.
Ms Smith pointed the finger of blame firmly at the Government.
“The process that has led to the transfer of these trains has the fingerprints of Ministers all over it,” she said. “Porterbrook signed a lease with Chiltern Railways in February, with the full agreement of the Department for Transport. I have had that in writing.
“It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies – and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.”
Tory MPs have also expressed concern. Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers said the deal “highlighted the possibility of further emphasising the North-South divide.”
But Rail Minister Stephen Hammond insisted negotiations are under way and that a solution will be found before the trains head south next May.
“The Government are well aware of the problem and will ensure that a solution is found,” he said. “Discussions are taking place between Chiltern Railways and First TransPennine Express.”