More than one in six Trans-Pennine Express trains were canceled in March, according to data from the rail regulator, the worst performance of any rail operator in the UK.
The Office of Rail and Road figures showed that almost 1,000 TPE trains were fully or partly canceled over its latest reporting period. The figures included trains canceled the night before – known as p-coding – which were until recently excluded from the reported figures.
TPE’s “official” cancellation rate was 5.8%, but including p-coded cancellations made as late as 10pm the night before for staff shortages, 17% of TPE trains did not run – the largest differential of any operator, according to the regulator.
The national average across Britain was 3.7% of trains failing to run when p-coded cancellations were included, and 3.3% without.
The First Group-owned train operator has struggled to run services due to a lack of drivers, with few volunteering to work on rest days while industrial relations have soured.
Its contract is due for renewal on May 28, and northern MPs and metro mayors have called on the government to take it back into public ownership rather than extend the First’s contract.
Ministers have said all options are on the table. Its sister company Avanti West Coast was given a six-month extension to its contract with a warning to improve after widespread cancellations and disruption last year, and with the government reluctant to lose remaining private operators, a similar scenario is likely to unfold.
TPE hailed the data as a significant improvement over recent months, after one in four trains were canceled in January.
A spokesperson for TPE said: “We introduced our recovery plan at the beginning of February to reduce cancellations and provide greater reliability and stability for our customers.
“As a direct result of this plan, we have seen a 40% reduction in cancellations, and we continue to work to bring these numbers down in the coming weeks and months.”
Labor said TPE was “failing passengers and damaging the economy”. The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, added: “It is absurd that people cannot rely on the train to get to work across huge areas of the north.
“This failing operator has had enough chances to turn its services around. Ministers must step in, put passengers first and strip Trans-Pennine Express of its contract.”
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, the rail minister, Huw Merriman, told MPs that he reviewed TPE’s performance figures weekly. He said: “Those figures are not good enough – there has been some improvement, but they’re still not good enough.
“All options are on the table and a decision will be announced to this House shortly.”
More than 30 MPs have signed an early day motion demanding the government take over the failing operator.
Transport for Wales also recorded significantly more cancellations than other major operators, with 12% of trains failing to run after parts of its fleet were withdrawn for safety checks.
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