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Appalling TransPennine Express services cannot be allowed to continue

(Alamy)

3 min read

This month, colleagues from across the House, representing constituencies both north and south of the Humber, joined together to send a public letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, calling on him not to renew TransPennine Express’ (TPE) franchise when it expires at the end of May.

This follows 14 months of failure and excuses which have resulted in rail passengers being badly let down.

Passengers attempting to travel on the supposedly hourly TPE service have frequently been subjected to gaps in services lasting multiple hours. At train stations, there is no regular bus or taxi replacement service in place and there are regularly no TPE staff on hand to provide help and support, meaning passengers are left none the wiser and completely let down by an uninterested franchise holder. The result is that passengers have missed family events, job interviews and college/university. They have been made late for work or been left out of pocket as they attempt to find alternative means of travel including expensive taxi journeys. A taxi between Cleethorpes and Doncaster will cost around £100.

TPE services are cancelled far more than those run by other companies that serve our region

As MPs, we have all frequently met TPE management to outline the endless complaints we receive from constituents. In response, the company has outlined the problems they face, such as staff shortages and disputes about rest-day working, while continually providing assurances which then go on to be broken. Occasionally, they have led us to believe that a solution was very close, only to fail to live up to expectations. For example, in May 2022, we were informed that services would be almost back to normal from the start of the summer timetable. When an amended timetable was eventually printed, it was claimed that it would provide certainty – the result was the exact opposite. 

Now, of course, all rail operators have been under pressure owing to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by a change in approach to rest-day working by rail unions. However, it is notable that TPE services are cancelled far more than those run by other companies that serve our region. This suggests that there is a significant problem with management. TPE argued that they could make progress if given further negotiating room by the Department for Transport, this was eventually granted and yet we have seen no improvement. Now they claim the unions must give way. There is always another excuse.

This is the service that we, as local MPs, rely on to get us between our constituencies and the East Coast Main Line as we travel to and from Westminster. As such, we are acutely aware of the appalling service on offer having spent far too many hours in Doncaster station waiting for a TPE train. Beyond the endemic unreliability of rail services, TPE have also failed to invest adequately in other areas for which they are responsible. For example, the toilet and waiting room facilities at Hull Station that in 2018 were actually made worse by the company in their mismanaged efforts to create new retail units that they then failed to let for the past five years. TPE blankly refuse to resolve this problem – even though they created it. This saga provides some clue as to why TPE rail services are also failing compared to other franchise and open access operators.

Sadly, we have collectively come to the conclusion that the only remaining solution is for the Transport Secretary to ensure that TPE’s franchise is not renewed when it expires on 28 May. From the extensive correspondence we have each received on this issue from constituents, we are confident that this move would have strong local backing. The pain and anguish that TPE have caused for 14 months cannot be allowed to continue.

 

Martin Vickers is the Conservative MP for Cleethorpes.

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