Avanti West Coast wins long-term contract after improvements

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The Department for Transport (DfT) has today (19th September) awarded Avanti West Coast a long-term contract enabling it to deliver improved services for passengers after dramatically reducing cancellations to as low as 1.1% over the past year.

A long-term contract will allow the operator to plan ahead, giving them the certainty they need to prepare advance timetables, roll out new train fleets and continue their work to improve services – benefitting passengers in both the short and long term.

This comes after the DfT placed Avanti West Coast on two consecutive short-term, six-month contracts and ordered them to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital routes – including between Manchester, Birmingham and London – which were brought on by a shortage of available drivers.

Alongside the recovery plan which prioritised training new drivers, reducing reliance on rest day working and getting tickets on sale earlier, a recovery timetable was introduced which has seen services increase from 180 trains per day to 264 on weekdays – the highest level in over two years.

By the end of the first six-month contract in March, Avanti had already made significant progress towards its recovery, with 40% more services being run and cancellations within Avanti’s control falling to 4.2%. Those arrangements were further extended to ensure these improvements would continue and passengers would feel confident in using the services again.

Since then, Avanti West Coast’s services have seen further improvements:

  • Cancellations have consistently been below 3% since March 2023, and as low as 1.1% in July 2023, down from 13% in January 2023.
  • Over 90% of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, improved from 75% in December 2022.
  • Over 100 additional drivers have been trained and brought on since April 2022.
  • Improvements to passenger facilities on trains including better seats, lighting and charging points.
  • The introduction of Travel Companion, a WhatsApp channel which passengers with accessibility needs can use to get real-time assistance and information on their journeys, allowing for a more seamless passenger experience for everyone.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “The routes Avanti West Coast operate provide vital connections, and passengers must feel confident that they can rely on the services to get them where they need to be at the right time.

“Over the past year, short-term contracts were necessary to rebuild the timetable and reduce cancellations. Now Avanti are back on track, providing long-term certainty for both the operator and passengers will best ensure that improvements continue.”

As well as working directly with the operator and local stakeholders on the recovery plan over the past year, the Government continues to support the industry – including through setting a mandate – as it engages with unions to ensure we can take forward much-needed reform, including introducing a reliable 7 day a week service to secure the future of our railways.

The transformation of Avanti’s performance over the past year demonstrates how, through working closely with Government, setting out clear set goals and being incentivised to succeed, the private sector can deliver on our railways.

Starting on 15 October 2023, Avanti West Coast’s new National Rail Contract will have a core term of three years and a maximum possible term of nine years. After three years, the Transport Secretary can terminate the contract at any point with three months’ notice.

The DfT will stay in close contact with the operator and local stakeholders to monitor Avanti’s performance as it continues its progress to a sustained recovery.

Meanwhile, the Department has also today awarded Cross Country a new National Rail Contract, with a core term of four years and a maximum possible term of eight years.

The contract will also begin on 15 October and includes additions to help improve services, such as the replacement of the now-retired High Speed Trains with more modern equivalents, refurbishment of existing Cross Country train fleets, and the introduction of direct daily services between Cardiff and Yorkshire, the North East and Edinburgh from December 2024.

Responding to the DfT’s decision to award a long-term contract to Avanti, David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

“After previous poor performance, leading to missed meetings, appointments and leisure events, passengers will be relieved that Avanti are now delivering a more frequent and reliable service.

“In Transport Focus’s latest Rail User Survey, passenger satisfaction with Avanti West Coast has improved, now at 87%, the highest level seen for more than a year. Satisfaction with punctuality and level of crowding on board the train is also recovering, although still lower than previous levels.

“Avanti must continue to focus on improving reliability to regain passenger trust. We will continue to closely monitor the passenger experience.”

Long-distance train operator CrossCountry, part of the Arriva Group, has also been awarded a new contract to keep operating passenger services across Great Britain.

Image credit: Avanti West Coast

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