Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said that “no option is off the table” ahead of his decision on whether to renew the contract of TransPennine Express (TPE).
Passengers of the FirstGroup-owned company have suffered from widespread delays and cancellations over the past year.
Its contract to run the service expires on May 28.
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Commons Transport Select Committee member Mike Amesbury, the Labour MP for Weaver Vale in Cheshire, told Mr Harper that passengers have suffered a “horrendous experience”, with nearly a quarter of trains cancelled in recent weeks.
He asked the Cabinet minister: “How on earth could you realistically be considering extending that contract?”.
Mr Harper told the committee he has to “look at the evidence” and “be careful about making a decision that is legally defensible”.
He said: “I’ve been clear that I’m driven by the service that’s experienced by passengers and no option is off the table.”
He added: “The current level of service being delivered by TransPennine Express to customers and to passengers is not acceptable.
“The judgment I’ve got to make is whether I think the company is capable of improving that.”
TPE, which covers an area across northern England and into Scotland, has been badly affected by drivers no longer volunteering to work paid overtime shifts.
Office of Rail and Road (ORR) figures show the operator’s cancellation score for the four weeks to March 4 worsened from 7.2% to 23.8% when adjusted to include pre-cancellations due to a shortage of train crew.
Cancellation scores show the percentage of services that are either fully or part-cancelled, with part-cancellations counted as half a full cancellation.
They have traditionally not included services removed from timetables as late as 10pm the previous day through a controversial process known as p-coding. In an effort to boost transparency, in February the ORR began publishing adjusted figures taking into account p-coding due to a lack of resources.