More than one in six TransPennine Express trains were canceled in March, according to data from the rail regulator, the worst performance of any rail operator in the UK.
Figures from the Bureau of Railways and Highways showed that almost 1,000 TPE trains were fully or partially canceled during its latest reporting period. The figures included trains canceled the night before, known as p-coding, which until recently were excluded from the reported figures.
TPE’s “official” cancellation rate was 5.8%, but including p-coded cancellations, made up to 10pm the night before due to understaffing, 17% of TPE trains did not run, the largest spread of any operator, according to the regulator.
The national average in Great Britain was 3.7% of trains not running, when p-code cancellations were included, and 3.3% without them.
The First Group-owned train operator has struggled to run services due to a lack of drivers, with few volunteering to work on days off as industrial relations have soured.
Its contract is due for renewal on May 28, and northern MPs and metropolitan mayors have called on the government to put it back into public ownership rather than extend First’s contract.
Ministers have said that all options are on the table. Its sister company, Avanti West Coast, has been given a six-month extension to its contract with a warning to improve after widespread cancellations and disruption last year, and with the government reluctant to lose the remaining private operators, it is likely that a similar scenario unfolds.
TPE hailed the data as a significant improvement in recent months, after one in four trains were canceled in January.
A TPE spokesperson said: “We presented our turnaround plan in early February to reduce cancellations and provide greater reliability and stability for our customers.
“As a direct result of this plan, we have seen a 40% reduction in cancellations and we continue to work to reduce these numbers in the coming weeks and months.”
Labor said TPE was “failing passengers and hurting the economy.” Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh added: “It is absurd that people cannot rely on the train to get to work in large areas of the north.
“This bankrupt operator has had enough opportunities to change its services. Ministers must step in, put passengers first and strip TransPennine Express of its contract.”
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, the railways minister, Huw Merriman, told MPs that he reviews TPE’s performance figures on a weekly basis. He said: “Those numbers are not good enough, there have been some improvements, but they are still not good enough.
“All options are on the table and a decision will be announced to this House shortly.”
More than 30 parliamentarians have signed an early motion demanding the government take over the bankrupt operator.
Transport for Wales also recorded significantly more cancellations than other major operators, with 12% of trains not running after parts of its fleet were withdrawn for security checks.