One of the main railway companies in the north of England is enjoying an “outrageous” legal loophole which allows it to grossly under-report cancellations, it has emerged.
Figures obtained by the Guardian show that during the October midterm break, TransPennine Express (TPE) canceled 30% of all trains, and at least 20% each following week until November 20. Most of these services have been canceled in their entirety, but some have started or ended at different stations than those advertised on the current May 2022 schedule.
TPE did not dispute those figures and apologized, blaming staff illness, an intensive crew training program and infrastructure problems beyond its control.
Yet when it hands over its performance statistics to the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), the government body that collates information on train reliability, TPE will report cancellations of between 5.6% and 11 .8% for the same period (October 23 to November 20). .
Indeed, the ORR allows companies to effectively ignore preemptively canceled trains until 10 p.m. the day before. These cancellations are called “p-coded services”. These trains then do not show up in industry systems, count in official figures or allow automatic delay claims.
The lower rate of cancellations reported to ORR will be for same day cancellations only. This does not take into account the disruption of passengers who have booked in advance – for example, someone who has booked a train to Manchester airport to catch a flight, or who gets off a plane late at night only to find yourself stranded.
About 25% of all TPE trains to and from the airport have been canceled since Sept. 7, according to airport management. Train travel to terminals had already plunged over the summer as cancellations became more routine, with a 25% drop in the number of people arriving by public transport between May and August.
“While we have taken steps to improve the reliability of services to Manchester Airport, dozens of trains are still canceled or terminated before the airport on short notice each day. This results in significant costs and inconvenience for passengers, at a time when they need it least,” said Chris Woodroofe, Managing Director of Manchester Airport.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said the p-code loophole “puts vested interests ahead of the public interest. This is outrageous, there is no other word for it.”
He added: “People have lost faith in the trains. If you are going to catch a flight, go to a game or a concert, you cannot be sure of getting there or coming back and so there is the car insurance policy. It’s really damaging to us as an urban region.
On Friday, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority agreed that if TPE and Avanti had not significantly reduced cancellations by its next meeting on December 16, it would ask the government to strip the two companies of their franchises.
Some 442 TransPennine services were fully or partially canceled the day before travel in the seven days to November 25, the Guardian has calculated. About 100 of them were on the Manchester-Cleethorpes line, leaving the seaside resort particularly poorly isolated.
A spokesman for TransPennine Express said: ‘Although our service delivery is not where we want it to be, there has been a reduction in the number of cancellations we have had to make in recent weeks and the providing the most reliable service possible for customers. remains our highest priority.
“We are sorry to everyone who has been affected by this ongoing disruption. This has been caused by high levels of train crew illness, an intensive crew training program (which includes a training backlog as a direct result of Covid) and infrastructure issues beyond our control, which combined, have seen a number of ‘on the day’ cancellations or cancellations made the day before.
“To keep customers informed, we ensure that these cancellations are posted in industry systems and that all pre-scheduled cancellations are shared via our website each evening. Anyone affected by the cancellation of their train can request a refund.
An ORR spokesperson said: ‘Services properly canceled before 22:00 on the day before the day of service are not part of rail cancellation data. Such changes take place for a wide variety of reasons; this definition remains consistent with historical data.
“We are currently working on a project to quantify relevant changes to service delivery, to add context to our future statistical releases.”