A decision to reduce timetables and abandon the use of “Nova 3” trains by Transpennine Express (TPE), the UK operator brought under government control earlier this year, was questioned by political leaders in Northern England during a meeting of the Transport for the North body. 

The board meeting of the statutory body, which brings together local transport authorities and businesses, was addressed by Robin Gisby, the chief executive of the government’s operator of last resort operating company, on the future of the embattled rail operator. 

While Gisby said that he was confident the operator could recover from its problems “in the next six to 12 months”, this would involve a slight scaling back of timetables from December to ensure that more trains are run on time and allow TPE to “refocus” on its primary aims, though the chief executive also said that he saw no sight of the government handing back control of any of the operators under its control for some time. 

Gisby also re-affirmed plans to bring the operator’s Mark 5A “Nova 3” trains out of service, describing the diesel-electric trains as “appalling” over issues that have meant many of the trains were often not running. Gisby made clear there is currently no plan to replace the deficient rolling stock.

However, many of the political leaders present expressed concerns over the operator’s plans, including Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who said the body would not be happy about the idea that the Nova 3s would be removed from the north’s rail network until it knew what would happen next. 

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin also expressed similar concerns, asking Gisby where the capacity needed to deliver on previously made promises to reintroduce certain routes would come from when the Nova 3’s had been dropped by TPE. 

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Gisby said that, while he understood concerns, new rolling stock was not the answer to address capacity issues, pointing instead to better planning around where and when trains are used and highlighting the money that could be saved by no longer using the expenses to run Nova 3s. 

Despite this, other members of the board said rumours that the trains could be sent for use on the rail network in Southern England felt like the northern network was being “levelled down”, leading Gisby to emphasise the “huge amount of new rolling stock” that was coming to the network through other operators such as Northern and LNER.

A number of the board members linked the idea to a previous debate on the rumours that the government may abandon the HS2 route from Birmingham to Manchester, something that Brabin had described as “economic vandalism” and “short-termism in the extreme” and the previous diluting of plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) high-speed routes between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and York.

At the same meeting, the board passed a resolution which reaffirmed its position to the government that “we must transform the North by building both HS2 and NPR in full”.