TransPennine Express contract in the balance

The future of FirstGroup’s Transpennine Express is in the balance, just over a month before the present National Rail Contract runs out on 28 May.

Transport secretary Mark Harper has told MPs that ‘no option is off the table’, because he is ‘driven by the service that’s experienced by passengers’.

TPE attracted widespread criticism when the number of its cancellations grew, including many which were decided the night before and not therefore included in the published statistics. However, when included they show that TPE has cancelled more services than any other operator in recent times.

Mr Harper told the Commons Transport Select Committee: ‘I’ve got to be careful about making a decision that is legally defensible. I’ve got to go through a proper process to look at the evidence in front of me.

‘And when I’ve made that decision, in the same way I did with Avanti, I will set it out in Parliament in the usual way. But there’s a limit to what I can say today in terms of pre-judging having taken that decision.

‘I haven’t taken that decision yet, and I’ve got to look at all of the evidence in front of me.

‘But I’ve been clear that I’m driven by the service that’s experienced by passengers and no option is off the table. You and other colleagues, my own colleagues from my party and colleagues from across the House and the metro mayors, have made it very clear that the current level of service is not something that their constituents are satisfied with, and I’ve heard that message loud and clear.’

The last TPE franchise began on 1 April 2016, but like the others was replaced by an Emergency Measures Agreement in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. Franchises were abolished later that year, and TPE’s present National Rail Contract was signed in May 2021.

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