TransPennine Express customers have a valid reason to feel dissatisfied with their service. The train company’s performance was so inadequate in the previous year that it was brought under government control in May 2023.
According to the transport secretary, Mark Harper, the rail company experienced frequent cancellations during its previous ownership by FirstGroup.
We have recently learned that TransPennine Express intends to have ongoing cancellations beginning in December.
The state-owned train operator, in a document titled “Our Plan for the Future: A Prospectus,” states that they will be implementing a slightly reduced timetable in order to enhance reliability, trust, and confidence.
The TransPennine Express route connecting Manchester and Leeds will now have a reduced frequency of three trains per hour in both directions, instead of four. The fastest trip between Liverpool and Newcastle will now take 22 minutes longer.
According to the train operator, the reductions will continue for a period of one year. However, starting in December 2024, they anticipate significant and dependable improvements in services.
As part of the clever strategy, the plan involves getting rid of the newest trains in the TransPennine Express fleet. The recently acquired Nova 3 rolling stock will be returned to the leasing company.
RailTech, an online publication, reports that a significant portion of the fleet was kept in a secure storage facility and did not see regular use. The fate of these locomotives and rolling stock is currently a subject of speculation. One potential buyer could be CrossCountry, as they use a portion of the East Coast main line that overlaps with TransPennine Express.
Chris Jackson, the recently appointed managing director of TransPennine Express, is facing a challenging situation. Due to the impact of Covid, the number of passengers has decreased significantly compared to other operators, with only 60% of the pre-pandemic level. Additionally, it is estimated that 3.5% of passengers are not purchasing tickets, leading to a promise for increased investigation and prosecution measures.
The report is direct about the significant number of cancelled trips that have greatly angered travelers, likely causing them to resort to using their own vehicles: “The operation is overly complicated for its size and has too many types of train cars, leading to challenging, expensive, and time-consuming requirements for driver training.”
“When combined with the complexity of arranging schedules and changing crew members, this leads to subpar service delivery. This is especially problematic during times of service disruption, as the inflexibility of crew terms and conditions can complicate the process of restoring service.”
During this time, travelers may be pleasantly surprised to learn that TransPennine Express is making efforts to regain customer loyalty through a series of unexpected and enjoyable events.
Occasionally, stations will offer coffee, cakes and ice cream. However, what catches my attention is the train operator’s commitment to unexpected acts of kindness through the newly launched ‘Charm’ app.
The program allows employees to distribute gift certificates valued at a maximum of £50.
TransPennine Express states that these can be utilized in situations of disruption to manage dissatisfied customers or improve the experience for customers on a unique journey.
More promisingly, for the vast majority of prospective passengers, there is a £1 Advance ticket offer early in 2024. You (probably) read about it here first. The aim: “To incentivise customers to make a journey and see for themselves that the service has improved.” That ticket will probably be digital (75 per cent are) and bought through Trainline (70 per cent are). I calculate from that figure that more than half the passengers who bothered to buy a ticket booked with the online agent.
TransPennine Express is in need of a major improvement that will not be related to beverages, pastries, or discounted fares. Instead, it will rely on the TransPennine Route Upgrade, which will enable trains to travel at the standard speed of 125mph on intercity routes connecting Manchester and York to London.
TransPennine Express can only achieve its stated goal of providing a high-quality travel experience and connecting communities in the north of England and Scotland once these conditions are met.