Burnham urges ministers to step in after a ‘do not travel’ alert on TransPennine issues

One of the UK’s worst-performing rail operators issued a “do not travel” alert on Wednesday, blaming an internal computer malfunction that led to a third of its trains being canceled again.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, urge The government “to step in – now” after urging TransPennine Express (TPE) not to travel on Wednesday.

The company must be given formal notice to improve or divest from its contract, he said, as happened in the fall with Avanti West Coast, which has the same parent company, FirstGroup. Burnham’s West Yorkshire counterpart, Tracy Brabin, said the cases were “entirely of the company’s making”.

TPE operates trains on three main routes from Liverpool and Manchester to Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Kathryn O’Brien, TPE’s director of customer service and operations, blamed a “significant issue with the listing system,” which had resulted in “a high level of unplanned cancellations and disruption across our network.”

A TPE spokesperson explained that this was a “computer/software issue rather than a staffing problem” and that the company expects to cancel “about a third of our scheduled services today”.

But for months now, the company has canceled dozens of trains at 10pm the night before travel, using what’s called a “P-code,” meaning they don’t “count” in the official statistics and effectively disappear from the schedule. On Monday 12 December, the first full day of the new winter schedule, the company canceled 32% of trains. This was before any talk of IT problems.

Burnham said the government should issue an official TPE warning before Christmas. “TPE should be told explicitly that if they don’t improve by mid-January, their contract will be cancelled. The government must stop this mess and make it clear that TPE has one last chance. Right now, they are not even on probation.”

Brabin said: “It is completely unacceptable for TransPennine Express to ask passengers not to travel as they have canceled many of their services today.

“This is a problem entirely of company making. I and other northern mayors have been calling on the government to notify them to gentrify or withdraw their concession. The government needs to do it now and get an urgent grip.”

O’Brien apologized to customers and said the company is “working diligently both internally and with our system provider to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”

She added, “We are doing everything we can to keep customers on the move, but as issues persist, we are advising customers not to travel and to look for alternative transportation.”

Official statistics from the Office of Railways and Roads indicated that TPE canceled 6.4% of trains in the quarter ended 30 September. But the company’s true cancellation rate has been much higher when P-code cancellations are included, hovering between 20% and 32% in recent weeks.

A DoT spokesperson said: The level of disruption to the rail network is much higher than should be expected, and commuters, particularly in the north, have suffered for a long time.

Following his meeting with the northern mayors, the Minister of Transport approved a four-pronged approach to improving rail services in the region.

“We will continue to closely monitor service levels and pressure operators to deliver improvements.”

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