MD Golton speaks at Rail in the North Group
TransPennine Express has cut the number of cancellations to its services by more than 40%, the operator’s Managing Director Matthew Golton told a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the North on 19 April. Earlier the same day, Transport Secretary Mark Harper was asked at the House of Commons Transport Committee about the decision about whether FirstGroup’s contract for TPE will be extended when it expires on 30 May, and he said ‘no option is off the table’.
The APPG meeting was primarily to discuss rail infrastructure in the North, but Mr Golton was asked about TPE’s recovery plan to improve performance. While acknowledging there is more work still to do, the MD said that, based on the four-week moving average, there had been a 44% improvement in all TPE cancellations and a 46% improvement in TPE’s own performance since the recovery plan had been implemented. He said on the North Route there had been a 43% improvement, on the South Route 34% and on the Anglo-Scottish services via the West Coast main line a 52% improvement in the rate of cancellations.
Outlining the basis of the recovery plan, Mr Golton said TPE’s challenge is making up the deficit in route knowledge at the same time as dealing with a training demand which is higher than at any other operator. He said TPE had more drivers and conductors than ever before, and another 11 drivers would become productive in the next 3½ weeks.
TPE has not had a rest day working agreement since December 2021, and Mr Golton said getting rest day working back for drivers would enable the operator to accelerate progress with delivering training and reducing cancellations. Without that, he said a significant opportunity to speed delivery of improvement would be held back.
Mr Harper told the Transport Committee he would look at TPE’s performance when making a decision about the company’s contract. FirstGroup’s National Rail Contract for TPE expires on 30 May, and there is an option to extend it for up to two years, although the Department for Transport has previously given notice of its intention to award a longer-term contract to provide continuity during the Transpennine Route Upgrade works.
‘I am very clear, and I made this clear in the House, that the current level of service being delivered by TransPennine Express to customers and passengers is not acceptable’ Mr Harper told the committee. ‘The judgment that I have to make is whether the company is capable of improving that.’ The Secretary of State added that he had to be careful ‘about making a decision that is legally defensible’ and said he had ‘not taken that decision yet’.
The debate followed repeated calls from Mayors across the North of England earlier in the week for FirstGroup to be stripped of the TPE contract, with operation transferred to the Operator of Last Resort.