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Transpennine Express Under Operator of Last Resort

Passengers that use Transpennine Express will be well aware of the terrible service it’s delivered over the past year. I’ve even experienced it myself.

Greg Devine


First TransPennine Express Desiro DMU 185117 departs Scarborough railway station with a service to Liverpool.

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Hopefully, though, things may be about to change.

The franchise’s operator, FirstGroup, will no longer be in charge; after high levels of delays and constant cancellations the Government simply had to step in. The state-owned operator that’s typically the last resort (OLR) will now run the service, essentially re-nationalising it.

It’s not the first time this has happened to a failing rail franchise. East coast main line operators National Express and Virgin both had their contracts terminated. In this situation, the Government created LNER, a nationalised service that I consider one of the best in the country.

You could be forgiven for thinking the situation around Transpennine Express is good news. It quite possibly could be. However, it’s important to remember that we still have a Conservative government in charge that’s not too keen on the prospects of nationalising even more rail services. They see such a move as a stopgap rather than a long-term option. I find this quite disappointing; nationalisation is evidently the best way forward. Too many operators are failing to provide a basic service, never mind one expected of a country with a rich railway heritage.

It’s not just Transpennine Express that’s facing issues. Avanti West Coast, which is also operated by FirstGroup, could face being put under OLR. Last summer, Avanti West Coast was warned that it had to improve its services after having only a marginally better record of delays and cancelations than Transpennine Express. Since then, it has twice been given a short contract extension; however, as things have not improved, it looks like this conclusion will be applied.

I repeat: re-nationalisation has to happen. Labour has promised to bring all passenger train operations into state hands if they’re elected, but with the number of promises Kier Starmer appears to be going back on, I can’t say I’m convinced of this.

British Rail logo

It’s not just about re-nationalising the companies but also improving our railway infrastructure. We need to return to British Rail. We only have one high speed line in the entire country. Our main intercity lines are limited to 125mph, but they usually run under this due to the tight curves across the system. The layout of the tracks hasn’t altered much since steam locomotives traversed them, which didn’t do anywhere near the speed of modern trains. Dig even deeper into the issue and you’ll notice that many rail lines aren’t even electrified. Running diesel trains isn’t ideal for the environment, but it’s worse to think that some of the engine units and carriages are older than me. We’re trying to combat the climate crisis whilst running inefficient, old diesel trains. 

Sorting the train operators needs to happen sooner rather than later. Once that’s been completed, improvements can’t just stop there. The network as a whole needs sorting. It will take time and money, but good public transport will lead to a solid economy—which is something we desperately need.

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