Avanti West Coast given short-term contract renewal by Government despite 'unacceptable' service
The train company has been given until April 1 to improve services – including those running through Wigan – following a reduction of its trains.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham had called for Avanti to be stripped of its contract unless axed services are reinstated soon.
Mr Burnham said: “Putting Avanti West Coast on notice marks a significant shift in tone under the new Secretary of State. At last, there is a clear recognition of the crisis engulfing the country’s most important railway line and the management failure that has led to that.
“However, the lack of an acceptable rescue plan from the company – and clear conditions from the Government – means very few people in Greater Manchester will support this extension.
“The damage that Avanti’s failing service is inflicting on our economy, and the huge disruption to passengers, is completely unacceptable. The company has shown itself to be unable to stabilise their service and fix problems with ticketing and the on-board experience for passengers. The thought of another six months of what we’re currently experiencing is a huge concern.
“From here, Greater Manchester is calling for a new approach from the Government. First, we want day-to-day monitoring and week-to-week public reporting on performance to be introduced. Second, we ask the Government to set a review point in mid-December in consultation with mayors and leaders from London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. If Avanti are still not delivering the full timetable and an acceptable service at that point, that will allow time for arrangements to be made for a new operator to be place from April 2023.”
This involved running just an hourly service in each direction between Manchester and London, plus additional services at the busiest times.
Trains were removed from the timetable in August to cut short-notice cancellations after a sharp decline in the number of drivers voluntarily working on rest days for extra pay.
The DfT said nearly 100 additional drivers will have entered formal service between April and December, meaning that more services have started to be added as new drivers become available to work.
It added the company is planning to increase from 180 to 264 trains per day on weekdays as more drivers become available, as well as continuing to recruit more staff.
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We need train services which are reliable and resilient to modern day life. Services on Avanti have been unacceptable and while the company has taken positive steps to get more trains moving, it must do more to deliver certainty of service to its passengers.
“We have agreed a six-month extension to Avanti to assess whether it is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect.”
FirstGroup, which co-owns Avanti West Coast with Italy’s Trenitalia, said it was “committed” to providing services that meet people’s needs.
Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup chief executive officer, said: “We are committed to working closely with Government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway that serves the needs of our customers and communities. Today’s agreement allows our team at Avanti West Coast to sustain their focus on delivering their robust plan to restore services to the levels that passengers rightly expect.”