The boss of Transpennine Express, a train company that has been getting a lot of bad press, has apologised to customers and said that the service hasn’t been good enough.
Transpennine Express, which runs trains in the north of England and into Scotland, has been cancelling trains every day for months, making it hard for many people to get where they need to go.
People have said that the service contract should be taken away from the company.
The managing director of Transpennine Express, Matthew Golton, told the BBC that the company had a “recovery plan” to do better.
The government has said before that it will take action if the company “can’t be turned around.”
When asked about Transpennine’s decision last week to cancel 40% of its services, Mr. Golton said: “It doesn’t cut it.
“I apologise. We know that this business is very important to Scotland and the North of England. We know we have to do a good job, and it bothers us a lot when we don’t.”
In the past few months, workers’ strikes over pay and working conditions have caused delays and cancelled train trips for people all over the country.
But some services have been cut even when there are no strikes, and the number of train cancellations in Britain has reached a new high. Transpennine says that high rates of sickness and a backlog of driver training due to the Covid pandemic, as well as drivers not working overtime, are to blame for the cancellations.
Mr. Golton said that the company “couldn’t train the way we needed to” when the pandemic was at its worst.
“We’ve had a lot of sick days, but the most important thing is that our drivers stopped working overtime in December 2021.”
A deal between Transpennine and union Aslef said that train drivers could work on their days off, but that deal ran out in 2021 and a new one hasn’t been made yet. Union leaders have said that a new offer is less than the last one.
Mr. Golton said that because there was no overtime agreement, it was “harder to train as quickly as we wanted to, and that was a big problem for us.”
But Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, replied that the company had had a year to train new drivers.
The head of the union said that drivers were not to blame and that members were being asked to work on their days off when they shouldn’t have to.
“We have a company that shouldn’t have its franchise anymore because it is incompetent and acts in bad faith, and then it wants people to help it get out of the hole it dug for itself,” he said.
“They have more than enough time to do whatever training they need to do and shouldn’t depend on people working on their time off.”
Mr. Golton denied that the company hadn’t hired enough drivers and said that Transpennine Express had 200 more drivers now than it did five years ago. He said, “We don’t have a shortage of drivers.”
Rowan Burnett takes the Transpennine trains from Marsden, a village in West Yorkshire, to Manchester and sometimes Leeds, where he works.
He usually takes the 7:46 train, but it often doesn’t come. He says he could “count on one hand” the number of times the service has been on time in the last three or four months when it has been working.
“To be honest, that’s the biggest risk of all,” he says. “You can leave the office and look down the line to see that three or four trains have been cancelled in the evening.”
In theory, Mr. Burnett says, living between Manchester and Leeds is a good place to live, but in practise, “you just can’t plan to be somewhere at a certain time because you don’t know what’s going on at the moment.”
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After last week’s service cancellations, Mr. Golton said that so far this week had “been better,” with 20% fewer cancelled services.
But the pressure on the company is still there.
When rail franchises in England fail, they are taken over by the Operator of Last Resort, which is owned by the Department of Transport (OLR).
Rail Minister Huw Merriman has said that if Transpennine “can’t be turned around, then decisions will be made.”
Tracy Brabin, who is the Labour mayor of West Yorkshire, said on Thursday that the government “must not renew” Transpennine’s contract in May.
“Enough is enough, and now is not the time to make excuses. We no longer believe that they can get better, “said she.
When Mr. Golton was asked if Transpennine should keep its contract, he said: “We care a lot about completing this contract well and on time.
“Up until the fall of 2021, we were getting the best service levels we’d ever had as a business.”
The OLR is currently in charge of the Northern, Southeastern, and London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).
The government also recently gave another troubled operator, Avanti West Coast, six months to improve quickly.