Future of TransPennine Express hangs in the balance as 'passengers have had enough'
The operator, owned by First Group, has forced passengers to endure months of severe disruption, as it has cancelled thousands of services at short notice.
Mr Harper is examining the operator’s improvement plan, before he decides whether its contract to run services should be renewed on May 28 or the Government’s operator of last resort should take over.
“Rail passengers have had enough. The Northern economy has had enough, the failure of TPE is holding us back,” they wrote.
Ms Brabin said the operator of last resort, which took charge of Northern services three years ago, should also assume control of TransPennine Express (TPE) services and amalgamate them.
Mr Harper said “no option is off the table” and he will aim to make a decision which delivers long-awaited improvements for passengers, when he spoke at a Transport Committee hearing.
“I’m very clear that the current level of service being delivered by TPE to passengers is not acceptable,” he said.
“If TPE doesn't improve and I take the view that it isn't capable of improving, then no option is off the table.”
The Tory Minister also said that Avanti West Coast made significant improvements after it was granted a six-month contract extension in October last year. The operator was given another six-month extension in March.
The latest figures show TPE axed almost a quarter (1,093) of its services due to a shortage of train crew, in the four weeks to March 4. That was far more than any other operator in the country.
TransPennine Express (TPE) has blamed several issues for the disruption, but claimed there would be an immediate improvement if the train drivers’ union ASLEF agreed to a new rest-day working agreement, so drivers can once again cover for absent colleagues and help train new recruits.
Mr Harper was asked why FirstRail Holdings Ltd, the holding company for five franchises, including TPE and Avanti, were paid £65m in dividends, in the year ending in March 2022.
He said: “That relates to the period before the very significant performance failures that we’ve seen.”
During the Transport Committee hearing, Mr Harper also admitted that delaying HS2 will not save any money.
It was announced in March that construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg of the high-speed railway will be delayed by two years and services may not enter central London until the 2040s.
“In itself, delaying delivering something doesn’t save money,” said Mr Harper.
“But of course it does reflect the fact that you have a budget in each year, everybody listening to this has to live within their annual budget, as well as a budget over time.”
Phase 1 of HS2, which will link the West Midlands and London, is expected to cost up to £44.6bn and open between 2029 to 2033.
Phase 2a, linking West Midlands to Crewe, is due to be delivered by 2034, and cost up to £7bn. Phase 2b, running from Crewe to Manchester, is expected to cost up to £22bn and open by 2041.