Avanti West Coast renews its short-term contract by the government

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Avanti West Coast has been the subject of a short-term contract renewal by the government after providing an “unacceptable” service to rail users.

The rail company has until April 1 next year to improve its services following a reduction in its trains, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said.

The operator reduced its schedule from seven trains per hour to a minimum of four per hour on August 14.

Passengers at Euston station in London following train cancellations this summer (Yui Mok/PA)

This involved operating only an hourly service in each direction between Manchester and London, plus additional services at peak times.

The route had three trains per hour before the coronavirus pandemic and before the schedule change had two services per hour with some additional trains.

The trains were removed from the timetable in August to reduce short-notice cancellations after a sharp drop in the number of drivers voluntarily working on rest days for extra pay.

The DfT said nearly 100 additional drivers will enter official service this year between April and December, meaning more services have started to be added as new drivers become available to work.

He added that the company plans to increase from 180 trains a day to 264 trains a day on weekdays as more conductors become available and to continue to recruit more train staff.

Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We need rail services that are reliable and resilient to modern life. Services on Avanti have been unacceptable and although the company has taken positive steps to run more trains, it needs to do more to provide certainty of service to its passengers.

Conservative Party Conference 2022

Secretary of State for Transport Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the services people faced were ‘unacceptable’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

“We have agreed to a six-month extension of Avanti to assess whether it is capable of operating this crucial route to a standard that passengers deserve and expect.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh described the contract extension as a “slap in the face for passengers”.

She wrote in a tweet: “It’s a reward for a miserable failure and a slap in the face for the passengers.

“This failed operator has caused misery for travellers, and the government’s response is to hand over millions more in cash to taxpayers and send passengers into even more chaos.”

FirstGroup plc, co-owner of Avanti West Coast in a joint venture with Italy’s Trenitalia, said it was “committed” to providing services that meet people’s needs.

Graham Sutherland, CEO of FirstGroup, said: “We are committed to working closely with government and our industry partners to deliver a successful railway that meets the needs of our customers and our communities. Today’s agreement allows our Avanti West Coast team to continue to focus on delivering on their robust plan to restore services to the levels passengers have rightfully come to expect.

The government’s announcement comes after Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham wrote to Ms Trevelyan and urged the rail company to be stripped of its contract unless cut services are soon restored.

Last month, the company released a plan to restore some services on certain days starting September 27.

Hours on other days were to be increased “as soon as possible” before another increase on December 11.

Avanti West Coast’s contract was originally set to expire on October 16.

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