A transpennine express logo on the side of a train

TransPennine Express is set to be run in public ownership after months of failure from its operator FirstGroup. The firm’s contract will not be renewed when it expires at the end of May, the transport secretary Mark Harper has confirmed. In its place, a state owned operator will run the service from the end of the month.

In March this year, one in six TransPennine services were cancelled, the highest of any rail franchise in the country.

The move has been welcomed by rail campaigners, who have claimed the decision is a result of public pressure. They’ve also called for the government to go much further and bring the entire railway into public ownership.

Johnbosco Nwogbo, lead campaigner at the anti-privatisation group We Own It, said:  “Make no mistake: Mark Harper’s decision comes after massive pressure from the public, who have had enough of private companies ripping them off and leaving them stranded at the station.

“Unreliable transport affects our work, our leisure, our lives. Passengers are fed up with missing meetings and taking hours to get home from work, or missing out on weekend trips they used to enjoy. We can’t trust trains to get us from A to B despite paying some of the highest fares in Europe: at that point, it’s time to rethink how we run our railways.

“Perhaps this government is beginning to learn the lessons of last week’s election. You only have to look to the polls to see that dissatisfaction with the state of our public services is partly responsible for the results we saw.

“Today’s decision goes to show that rail privatisation is a failed experiment. It’s time to get our railways back on track and bring them into public hands.”

This position has been echoed by opposition politicians. Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary said: “After months of needless damage, the Tories have finally accepted they can no longer defend the indefensible. But this endless cycle of shambolic private operators failing passengers shows the Conservative’s rail system is fundamentally broken.

“The next Labour government will bring our railways back into public ownership as contracts expire. We will end the Tories’ failing system, putting the public back at the heart of our rail network.”

Matt Edwards, transport spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales said: “Good. One in six services were cancelled in March FirstGroup have mismanaged #TranspennineExpress leaving cities across the North of England with unreliable and infrequent train connections. The government needs to step in and sort this mess out.”

Shortly after news broke that FirstGroup’s contract on the TransPennine Express would not be renewed, Avanti West Coast began trending on Twitter. Avanti West Coast is also owned by FirstGroup, and calls have intensified for that service to be taken into public hands too.

Data from January suggests that the proportion of trains cancelled on Avanti West Coast services has been at times similar to that on TransPennine Express.

The contract for Avanti West Coast is set to expire on May 31.

Image credit: Hugh Llewelyn – Creative Commons

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