Train services run by TransPennine Express will be nationalised after months of delays and cancellations.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced the decision to bring the operator’s services under Government control, but warned it is “not a silver bullet”.
Graham Sutherland, chief executive of TransPennine Express owner FirstGroup, insisted the company has “worked extremely hard to improve services”.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said ministers have “finally accepted they can no longer defend the indefensible”.
Watchdog Transport Focus said passengers have “endured an unacceptable service for too long” while West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin declared it was “absolutely right that this is the end of the line” for what she described as a “failing railway operator”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said services will be brought under its Operator of Last Resort from May 28.
This will bring the proportion of journeys on Britain’s railways which are on nationalised services to around a quarter, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
TransPennine Express passengers have suffered from widespread delays and cancellations over the past year.
The operator, which covers an area across northern England and into Scotland, has been badly affected by drivers who are members of the Aslef union no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
Latest figures show TransPennine Express cancelled the equivalent of one in six services across most of March.
Mr Harper said: “In my time as Transport Secretary, I have been clear that passenger experience must always come first.
TransPennine Express services will transfer to new ownership on 28 May 2023.All tickets remain valid and can be purchased in the usual way.
— TransPennine Express (@TPExpressTrains) May 11, 2023
“After months of commuters and northern businesses bearing the brunt of continuous cancellations, I’ve made the decision to bring TransPennine Express into Operator of Last Resort.
“This is not a silver bullet and will not instantaneously fix a number of challenges being faced, including Aslef’s actions which are preventing TransPennine Express from being able to run a full service.”
He added that the DfT has “played our part but Aslef now need to play theirs” by calling off strikes and the ban on rest day working.
The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan accused Mr Harper of “trying to blame Aslef – rather than the company’s inept management – for its many problems”.
Mr Whelan claimed TransPennine Express is getting “exactly what it deserves” as it has “never employed enough drivers”.
Ms Haigh said: “This endless cycle of shambolic private operators failing passengers shows the Conservatives’ rail system is fundamentally broken.
“The next Labour government will end this sticking plaster politics by bringing our railways back into public ownership as contracts expire.”
The DfT put TransPennine Express on a recovery plan in February after Mr Harper met local mayors to discuss a way forward.
The department said: “While some improvements have been made over the past few months, it has been decided that to achieve the performance levels passengers deserve, and that the northern economy needs, both the contract and the underlying relationships must be reset.”
It added: “The decision to bring TransPennine Express into the control of the Operator of Last Resort is temporary and it is the Government’s full intention that it will return to the private sector.”
FirstGroup will continue to run Avanti West Coast, Great Western Railway, South Western Railway, Hull Trains and Lumo.
The Operator of Last Resort already runs London North Eastern Railway, Northern and Southeastern services, while ScotRail and Transport for Wales are run by the Scottish and Welsh Governments respectively.
Adam Leyton, a rail user who faced a two-hour delay after his TPE service was cancelled on Tuesday night, said the nationalisation of the train operator is the “right decision”.
The 46-year-old was due to take a direct train from Manchester to Edinburgh at 8.25pm on Tuesday evening but instead had to travel by train to Preston then Carlisle, where he was put in a taxi for more than two hours with three other passengers to the Scottish capital – arriving home at 1.30am.
Mr Leyton pointed out the same 8.25pm service from Manchester Oxford Road, the last direct train to Edinburgh, has been cancelled almost every night this week.
“It really wasn’t ideal. I don’t use TPE often really, but looking at the performance of TPE generally I think the right decision has been made,” the small business owner told PA.
“In my view, nationalising the railways generally would be a good thing … we need a fully joined-up rail service.
“Public transport needs to be run for the public, not for shareholders.”