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Home Travel Strip Avanti of West Coast Main Line franchise, say Northern leaders

Strip Avanti of West Coast Main Line franchise, say Northern leaders

by Staff

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In September 2023, Avanti West Coast was handed a nine-year contract to continue running West Coast Main Line services

Rail operator Avanti West Coast (AWC) should be stripped of its contract “at the earliest possible opportunity”, according to Transport for the North.

The group represents leaders from transport, business and politics across the north of England.

It has demanded action from Transport Secretary Mark Harper, saying “a continuation of the current situation is unacceptable to the North.”

AWC’s parent company said a change of operators would not improve services.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman added: “Stripping Avanti’s contract would just cause more upheaval for passengers rather than solving the challenges the operator is facing.

“These include restrictive working practices that can’t be reformed without Aslef’s agreement.”

He added: “However, improvements still need to be made, which is why it’s important the operator continues to address the underlying challenges it faces and the government continues to hold it to account, if it doesn’t.”

In September last year, Avanti West Coast’s operating contract was renewed by the DfT for up to nine years, with Mr Harper claiming it was “back on track” following major disruption.

AWC, which runs services between London and Scotland through the West Midlands and north west of England, is owned by FirstGroup in a joint venture with Italian company Trenitalia.

At a meeting in Leeds, two options were considered by the Transport for the North (TfN) board – either to demand improvements in Avanti’s performance by June, or to call for its contract to be terminated immediately.

After hearing from First Rail’s managing director Steve Montgomery about AWC’s performance, the TfN board – which includes Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram – voted to demand services be brought back under public ownership.

It wants the Operator of Last Resort (OLR) to take on short-term responsibility for the delivery of long-distance services on the West Coast Main Line.

Office of Rail and Road figures show Avanti West Coast cancelled 9.1% of its services in the four weeks to 2 March.

In December, TfN wrote to Mr Harper to ask him to instruct officials to conduct a critical review into Avanti West Coast’s operation given the deteriorating service.

This came after the operator announced a number of cuts to services over the busy Christmas period.

TfN chairman Lord McLoughlin said: “Today’s board was very clear. The performance on the West Coast Main Line by Avanti has been so poor, for so long, that action now must be taken.

“The travelling public deserve a service they can rely on. But Avanti has fallen far too short of expectations for far too long now.”

A spokeswoman for First Group said: “Our team at Avanti West Coast, and everyone connected with the train operator, are all working hard with a singular focus on delivering the service that customers expect.

“In recent months the service has been below expectations on some days, for a variety of reasons including driver unavailability due to historic leave policies as well as elevated sickness levels.

“Changing the operator won’t affect these fundamental issues affecting the service, which is why it is vital that we continue working with trade unions with whom we have had recent positive discussions, and continue working with government and other stakeholders on our plans to deliver long-term improvements in customer experience, resilience and a new fleet.”

The OLR already runs London North Eastern Railway, Northern, Southeastern and TransPennine Express.

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