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, said the company has “worked extremely hard to improve services”.
But 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.
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.
“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 DfT put the operator on a recovery plan in February after meeting 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.”
The Operator of Last Resort already runs London North Eastern Railway, Northern and Southeastern services.
‘Absolutely the right call’: politicians and unions respond to TPE contract removal
Reacting to the government’s decision to nationalise TPE, Iain Stewart MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee said, “stripping TransPennine Express of its contract is absolutely the right call.”
“The Rail Minister told us in January that the company’s record was ‘unacceptable’, and there was no realistic expectation it would improve, unlike with Avanti where demonstrable progress was being made.”
He added that a re-structuring “won’t resolve all of these problems overnight, and a deal needs to be reached with the union Aslef on rest-day working, pay and conditions.”
Trade unions RMT, Aself, and TSSA all welcomed the announcement and argued for further nationalisation of UK railways.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the operator had “got exactly what it deserves today,” but hit back at criticisms from the transport secretary that industrial action was partly to blame. “Mark Harper – who is not a stupid man – knows full well that the fault lies not with this trade union, but at the door of the company and its desperately poor managers.’
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch called for Firstgroup’s other troubled operator, Avanti West Coast, to have its contract stripped. “First should now also lose its failed Avanti West Coast contract as part of a return of all our railways to public ownership.”
TSSA TransPennine organiser Alan Valentine, said the announcement had been a “long time coming” and would be “welcomed both by passengers and our hard-working members.”
“For far too long the privateers at TransPennine have been short-changing commuters, and the serious problems on these services simply go to show that fragmented private railways are an abject failure.”
Press Association – Neil Lancefield with additional reporting from Guy Taylor