TransPennine Express today faced renewed calls for the train operating company to be nationalised after an MP blasted 'one of the worst days yet for passengers'.
The Manchester Evening News revealed that by 9am on Thursday, TPE reported 93 full cancellations although Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, claimed at one point this morning, the total figure of cancellations and disrupted trains stood at a huge 120.
She said the Government 'cannot pretend' the management is 'blameless in this farce', and urged the Prime Minister to strip the company of its contract and bring it under the Operator of Last Resort.
The in-house body currently manages other services, including Northern and London North Eastern Railway. Transport minister Huw Merriman said 'decisions will be made' if TransPennine Express services cannot be improved, although he said the Operator of Last Resort needs a 'manageable' portfolio.
Ms Haigh highlighted how services between Barnsley and Manchester, and Huddersfield to Leeds, were cancelled on Thursday, writing on Twitter: "One of the worst days yet for passengers."
TPE reported 'cancellations to services on all routes', with passengers in Manchester facing another day of rail chaos as a result. Cancelled services today - a non rail strike day - were affecting passengers at Manchester Piccadilly, Leeds, Liverpool Lime Street, York and Newcastle railways stations, as well as at Edinburgh Waverley, due, according to TPE, because of a shortage of train drivers, sickness and a training backlog.
The operator, on its website, noted: "Disruption across the TransPennine Express network expected until the end of the day."
Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Haigh said: "The minister must surely agree this simply isn't good enough. In November he assured us the new timetable would be deliverable. This week the results are in and the service has never been worse.
"This morning alone at least 123 services have been cancelled or disrupted on TransPennine Express and he cannot pretend that the management are blameless in this farce. The North cannot afford to continue like this any longer. So will he strip TransPennine Express of their contract and bring it under the Operator of Last Resort?"
Mr Merriman replied: "The Operator of Last Resort does a great job but I also hear criticisms…with regards to Northern Rail that also has higher than average cancellations, and Northern Rail is operated by the Operator of Last Resort.
"I'm also keen to ensure that the Operator of Last Resort has a manageable portfolio. But there was nothing I've said… which has absolved the management of any blame. If that can't be turned round, then decisions will be made."
Labour's Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis said Ukraine and Romania have 'reopened a train line in six months during a war' whereas the terms of reference for a study on running high-speed trains between East Midland Parkway and Leeds via Sheffield have not been agreed within 14 months.
Mr Merriman replied: "I am aware that that study needs to get out so that we can really look at how we can get those HS2 trains up to Leeds and the other impacts that will actually have on Leeds. There are discussions going on in the department, there have been this week, as to how we can move that forward. I expect that report to be out very shortly."
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has already confirmed he will be asking for the company's 'contract to be terminated when it expires in May' unless there's a major reduction in cancellations by February, next month.
A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: "We are committed to the communities we serve and want to assure our customers that we are doing all we can to deliver a train service they can rely on.
"Prolonged disruption to our services has been caused by a combination of very high levels of sickness and a training backlog following the pandemic, which have led to us needing to remove services from our timetable on a day-to-day basis through pre-planned cancellations.
"Our customers want, and deserve, reliable and punctual train services, and we are sorry we have not been able to consistently provide that due to the ongoing issues. TPE's team continues to work flat-out to deliver higher levels of service delivery and to tackle the issues that are being experienced by customers."
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