TransPennine Express: High cancellation rate blamed on staff shortages and ‘exceptional circumstances’

TransPennine Express cancelled more than one in 10 services over a month as it continues to struggle with a shortage of fully-trained drivers.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) figures showed that almost 1,646 of the operator’s trains were fully or partly cancelled over its latest reporting period (September 17 to October 14) due to train crew shortages.

TransPennine Express (TPE) operator reported a cancellation rate of 5 per cent. But when p-coded cancellations, made as late as 10pm the night before the train was due, were taken into account it rose to 10.8 per cent.

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That was the highest cancellation rate recorded by the 11 train operators which were assesed. It was followed by Grand Central (9.6 per cent), Northern (8 per cent) and LNER (6.3 per cent).

A TransPennine Express train at Leeds train stationA TransPennine Express train at Leeds train station
A TransPennine Express train at Leeds train station

Under the regulator’s old system, p-code cancellations were excluded from the reported figures and several train operators were accused of exploiting this loophole.

TPE has been struggling with a shortage of fully trained drivers, as around 30 per cent have not been trained to operate services on all routes. But the operator said it is has plans to accerlate its training programme.

Managing Director Chris Jackson said it has made improvements since it was nationalised and a new rest-day working agreement, which allows drivers to cover for absent colleagues and train new recruits, has “helped move performance back towards where it needs”.

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But he also said the operator has “faced exceptional circumstances” over the last two months as disruption was caused by industrial action, severe weather and repair work on Plessey Viaduct.

“Pre-planned cancellations are only applied, in accordance with current industry guidelines, when resources are not available to cover advertised services,” he said.

“Our aim is to be as open and transparent as possible and to give our customers the information they need to be able to make informed choices about their travel arrangements.

“We understand that there is still work to be done."

First Group lost the contract to run services in May and the Government’s Operator of Last Resort took over, because passengers had been forced to endure 18 months of widespread cancellations.

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The operator said improvements have been made but there are “perpetual challenges” with driver training, as they need to learn how to operate a range of trains on different routes, including the new diversionary routes put in place for the TransPennine Route.

The training programme also hit a major setback when drivers refused to work overtime because no rest-day working agreement was in place between December 2021 and June 2023.

TPE recently announced it is planning to introduce a new timetable in December, with fewer off-peak trains running between Leeds and Manchester, to free up resources for training.