TransPennine Express’ privatisation failure sparks calls to fully renationalise rail network

TPE is the latest train operator to be brought under government control.

Following months of delays and cancellations, that saw one in six services being cancelled in March alone, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced this week that train services run by TransPennine Express (TPE) would be nationalised, just as operator Northern was in 2020.

The Department for Transport said it had taken steps to improve services, and the operator had launched a recovery plan in February. However, the improvements were minimal. TPE is the fourth rail operator contract to be nationalised since 2018.

The announcement has renewed calls for the whole of the rail network to be brought under public ownership and control.

Christian Wolmar, author of British Rail, a New History, says that the lessons learned from the collapse of the TPE contract, should be all too obvious, that “relying on the private sector to provide an efficient, cost-effective and reliable railway was a fundamental mistake.”

“Raw capitalism does not work in an industry that is heavily dependent on massive investment, that is a natural monopoly and provides an essential public service. The privatisation in the mid-1990s created a system of pretend capitalism, which involved the fragmentation of a coherent but complex industry into a series of interdependent companies motivated by private profit rather than public service,” Wolmar wrote in the Guardian.

Similar criticism has been raised by politicians, who are also calling for the wider nationalisation of rail networks.  

The Green Party has said it would bring all trains into public ownership and ensure services are run for people, not profit. “The poor service provided by TransPennine Express is just the latest example of the failure of privatisation,” the party said in a tweet.

Kim Johnson, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, tweeted: “The failed experiment of rail privatisation is falling apart for all to see. It’s time we brought the whole rail network under public ownership and control.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said that TPE had “comprehensively failed the north”, adding: “Ministers have finally accepted they can no longer defend the indefensible.

“But this endless cycle of shambolic private operators failing passengers shows the Conservatives’ rail system is fundamentally broken.”

Mayors in the north of England, who have long demanded that TPE was put under government control, hailed the move as a victory. Tracy Brabin, the mayor of West Yorkshire, said:

“It is absolutely right that this is the end of the line … We’ve been urging government to act for almost a year, as delays and cancellations have damaged our economy and subjected commuters in the north to sheer misery.”

Jon Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth, West Yorkshire said: “TransPennine Express loses its contract due to poor performance. Another failure for privatised railways. Yet again the state has to step in to clean up the mess. Privatisation has failed. It’s time for public ownership.”

LFF columnist Prem Sikka tweeted: “TransPennine Express nationalised for catalogue of filings and poor service. How much of the public subsidy will TPE return for providing shoddy services? End the privatisation scam. Bring the entire network into public ownership.”

Sentiment shared by Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP for Warrington North, who described the services provided by the TPE as “utterly abysmal.” 

“I’m pleased to see TransPennine Express services are *finally* being taken under state control at the end of the month,” she said.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: YouTube screen grab

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