Rail company contract renewed despite ‘disastrous’ delays and cancellations

Avanti West Coast has had its contract renewed to operate its UK rail routes, despite issues with delays and cancellations.

Both Avanti and another operator, CrossCountry, were awarded agreements lasting up to nine and eight years respectively.

Avanti West Coast will continue to operate routes from Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Liverpool to London while CrossCountry will remain the operator of lines running from north Scotland down to Cambridge, Bournemouth, Cardiff and Cornwall.

The Avanti renewal came despite issues with trains arriving late, or not at all.

When questioned by other MPs in the House of Commons after the new contracts were announced, transport minister Jesse Norman said Avanti accepted the need to “woo” customers back after “disastrous underperformance” in 2022.

MPs suggested other lines were becoming overcrowded because of passengers going out of their way to avoid Avanti when other options were available.

Mr Norman said the government believed Avanti was beginning to win back trust.

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However, Labour’s Mike Amesbury suggested the contract had been renewed on the basis that the operator is “a little less crap than it used to be”.

David Jones, the former Tory cabinet minister, also said the decision will be “very badly received” by passengers in north Wales.

But the government said improvements had been made by the firm.

Improved performance

Since January this year the cancellation rate of Avanti West Coast services fell from 13% to 3% in March and 1.1% in July, the government said.

The rate has not risen above 3% since March, the Department for Transport added.

While a quarter of Avanti trains arrived 15 minutes after their scheduled time last December, the department said 90% of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of when they’re due.

At the height of its poor performance, in the four weeks to 7 January Avanti West Coast cancelled the equivalent of roughly one in five services and logged a cancellations score of 18.9% – one of the highest recorded for any operator in records dating back to 2014.

More than 100 additional drivers are said to have been trained and brought on since April 2022.

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Earlier this year train operator TransPennine Express was brought under government control due to “months of continuous cancellations”.

Despite the previously high cancellation and late rate, Avanti had its last contract extended in March this year.

The latest deal will last for a minimum of three years, while the CrossCountry agreement will last for at least four.

Avanti West Coast is owned by Italian train firm Trenitalia and the London-listed FirstGroup.

The parent company of CrossCountry is the German firm Deutsche Bahn.

Both train operators had been hit by strikes since unions for rail workers began industrial action in June 2022.

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