Transpennine Express named 'Best Rail Operator' a week after government orders them to improve their service

Transpennine Express have been handed a prestigious travel industry award a week after the government confirmed they are scrutinising the train operator's performance.

The awkward timing saw the Business Travel Awards 2020 announce Transpennine as the winner of the Best Rail Operator category on Monday.

But on January 15, transport secretary Grant Shapps had held a meeting in which he warned Transpennine to improve reliability and punctuality or face further action.

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Shortlisting and judging for the awards took place in October.

Shapps called Transpennine, Network Rail and train manufacturers Hitachi and CAF into discussions over the poor performance of rail services in the north in December and January.

Shapps tweeted that he had told them to 'get their act together' or the matter would be escalated.

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Transpennine, which is owned by First, holds the franchise to run express services between major cities in the north and Scotland.

The firm blamed train faults and crew shortages after dozens of trains were cancelled when new timetables were introduced on December 15.

It is running a reduced timetable on some routes after a maintenance backlog and infrastructure problems delayed staff training on new trains.

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Last week, TPE announced enhanced compensation to cancel the 2.8 per cent regulated fare increase for season ticket holders.

When the scheme was launched, managing director Leo Goodwin admitted that "our performance was not up to scratch at the end of last year and for this we really do apologise".

He said: "We have experienced a number of issues following the introduction of our new trains, resulting in disruption to a number of our customers' journeys with us."

Network Rail was yesterday referred to the Office of Rail Regulation for an investigation into their maintenance of the network, which train operators have blamed for the issues.

Northern also look likely to be stripped of their operating rights in the spring after Shapps took a tough line on their underperformance.