A TRAIN operator which provides 30 million passenger journeys a year across the North and Scotland has been warned unless it improves its “appalling” performance it could lose its franchise.

Tees Valley Combined Authority cabinet member for transport Councillor Heather Scott revealed TransPennine Express bosses had been handed the alert at a meeting of Rail North and Transport for the North this month, where Northern Rail was also critcised for its performance ahead of being stripped of its franchise.

Cllr Scott, the leader of Darlington Borough Council, said both companies had tried to blame others for a series of service cancellations, but their excuses had not been accepted.

She told a full meeting of the council: “I have to say TransPennine Express’ performance is almost as bad as Northern Rail and they were exactly the same – there was excuses relating to new trains, training drivers.

“They were given until the end of March to come up with a better performance and if they don’t I think that the organisation that’s criticising them will recommend for them to lose their franchise as well.”

The council’s former leader, Councillor Stephen Harker, said he expected the same decision would be made about TransPennine Express as had been Northern Rail.

He said: “Time and time again train companies bid the lowest possible rate because they know they have to gain the franchise so it ends up that they can’t afford to fund it. It’s a process that has been well and truly shown to fail.”

Cllr Scott said Grant Shapps was examining the way rail franchises were awarded, but that she would take every opportunity to reinforce the apparent issues with the system.

Green Party group leader Councillor Matthew Snedker said he was delighted to see Northern Rail’s failure to customers finally being dealt with, but that it was unfair to put all of the blame at the franchisee’s door.

He said: “The way the franchising system is set up, is set to fail. It wasn’t Northern that failed to electrify lines, it wasn’t Northern’s fault that they ordered trains that run on electric lines and then found they had to carry on running pacers.

“What we have is a government that has failed to invest in the infrastructure that these companies have to run on.”

A TransPennine Express spokesman said the firm had gone through “a challenging few months”, and apologised for  serious disruption to journeys.

He said since the start of the year, its performance had stabilised and had been on average 80 per cent, representing a big improvement compared to before Christmas.

The firm said it would reinstate the majority of services from Monday between Liverpool Lime Street and Edinburgh, which includes stations such as Darlington, Durham and Northallerton from Monday.

The firm said it temporarily withdrew 32 services on weekdays from January 6, and 22 of the services would be reinstated on 3 February 3 and the remaining ten services on February 17.

He said: “Withdrawing these services has allowed us to concentrate on crew training and to focus on the new train maintenance schedule. It has also seen reliability on this route stabilise and our overall performance has been on average around 85 per cent since the new year.”

The firm said a small amendment to calls at Northallerton and Darlington on some Manchester Airport to Newcastle services, would continue until March 30, at which date these calls will be reinstated.”