PRESSURE is today growing on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to spell out how he intends to strip failing rail operator Northern of its franchise – and to take similar action against TransPennine Express.
The calls come after Mr Shapps confirmed that he will “not put up” with Northern’s deteriorating performance in a series of interviews to coincide with the 2.7 per cent New Year hike in fares.
However Department for Transport officials later said that Arriva-owned Northern, whose franchise was due to run until 2025, could continue to operate services through a new short-term contract, prompting an angry response from political leaders across the North.
They want Mr Shapps to be far more specific after last month’s timetable changes saw performance levels deteriorate still further and leave less than 30 per cent of trains arriving on time on parts of the network.
Yet, as Mr Shapps prepares to meet transport chiefs in Leeds next week, campaigners urged the Minister to take action against TPE, owned by First Group, as well. “TransPennine Express are equally as bad if not worse,” said Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison.
“Our clear view is that both Northern and TPE should be treated the same...the same process underway for Northern should be triggered with TransPennine for their unacceptable performance levels.”
Options open to Mr Shapps include an interim franchise – he is waiting for former British Airways boss Keith Williams to complete his review of the rail industry – or nationalising Northern by putting a government-controlled ‘operator of last resort’ in charge.
“The simple answer to the question is yes, it is going to be brought to an end,” he said when asked if Northern would lose its franchise. “It’s partially a legal process but frustrated commuters will not have to wait long.”
However Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said the announcement “merely reaffirms the process which the Transport Secretary started” last year. “Urgent and decisive action must be taken,” said the Labour politician.
Ben Houchen, the Tory mayor for Tees Valley, added: “It’s been clear for far too long that Northern are simply not up to the job.”
But Robert Nisbet, a director of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators, urged passengers to “bear with us”. He acknowledged there are “pockets of difficulty around the network” but insisted “we’re tackling them”.
New low in performance
JUST 28 per cent of TransPennine Express trains between the North’s major towns and cities were on time between November 10 and December 7 prior to the chaotic introduction of new timetables.
The company declined to comment when contacted by The Yorkshire Post.
In the same period, 40 per cent of trains were on time according to official data.
A spokesman for the company said it was still in talks with the Department for Transport and that there was “nothing new to report”.
He then cited commercial confidentiality when asked to provide a message for their passengers.