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Mayor calls for West Midlands Trains to be stripped of franchise if no improvement

By Richard Guttridge | Transport | Published:

West Midlands Trains should be stripped of its rail franchise if its "woeful" performance does not improve by the end of January, furious mayor Andy Street said today.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, inset, says he has "lost all faith" in West Midlands Trains' ability to run services

Mr Street said he has "lost all faith" in the company's ability to run services following a disastrous few months which has been dominated by delays, cancellations and overcrowding.

The West Midlands Mayor also said it was time for him to be in charge of rail as he called on the Government to devolve powers and give him control.

Read the full statement here:

Mr Street said he had asked the Department for Transport to strip Abellio, which owns WMT, of the West Midlands franchise at the end of January if there is no improvement.

West Midlands Railway said in response to the criticism that it had already consulted with Mr Street and the Department of Transport over speeding up improvements to services.

It took over from London Midland last year but has been dogged by problems to services.

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Even today a shortage of train crews caused further delays and cancellations across West Midlands Railway timetables espeically hitting lines into Birmingham Snow Hill.

The disruption was expected to last until the end of Monday, with buses arranged to replace cancelled.

Mr Street has been a vocal critic of WMT, which runs West Midlands Railway services through the Black Country, over recent weeks and has held several meetings with executives.

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He said he had been frustrated that his demands to improve the service had not been met and that performance had continued to be "unacceptable" despite last week's timetable changes.

The mayor said he had suggested bringing forward next May’s timetable changes, ending the skipping of local stations when services are running behind schedule and freezing January’s fare increase until such a time that performance has significantly improved but these measures had been rejected by WMT.

West Midlands Railway services have been beset by delays and disruption

Mr Street said: "As a consequence, I, like many of you across the region, have lost all faith in West Midlands Trains’ ability to run our network under the current system.

"Rail services in the region should be accountable to the people of the West Midlands. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the Mayor of the West Midlands should take control of, and be the single accountable person for, rail in the West Midlands.

"The Conservative manifesto gave a clear commitment to devolving power over local rail to Metro-Mayors, and I expect this to be honoured. Therefore I have already started the conversation with Government about this change, and I will be lobbying extensively to implement it as soon as possible.

"However this change will not be immediate, and in the meantime there needs to be considerable improvement.

"The priority is restoring a reliable rail service – like we enjoyed before May – and clearly communicating when this falters. Neither of these things have been happening, and WMT need to address this without delay.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has also been critical of West Midlands Trains

"I have already notified the Department for Transport (DfT) that if WMT do not restore a reliable service by midnight on January 31 2020 then I will be asking them to strip Abellio of the West Midlands franchise."

WMT has said it is introducing more carriages and investing into services to try and improve performance.

It came after West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson also hit out over continued chaos on local rail services – saying that "the failing transport system has now become a danger to public safety".

Mayor 'consulted over improvements'

West Midlands Trains managing director Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde said: “We recognise that the May timetable has not worked and apologise to all our passengers who have been affected.

"Last week we brought in extra carriages and made changes to the timetable to improve capacity and performance.

"Unfortunately, in that short period, we also experienced many incidents outside our control.

"These included several track and signalling failures – managed by Network Rail, trespass - including a person being struck by a train - and anti-social behaviour disrupting a very busy service.

West Midlands Trains managing director Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde

"December’s changes are only part of a bigger plan to improve performance which we presented to the West Midlands Rail Executive and the DfT last week.

"We consulted with the Mayor and the DfT extensively on how to speed up improvements already planned.

"Together, we explored bringing forward next May’s timetable with Network Rail but that was not possible due to the impact on the wider rail industry.

“We have committed to an enhanced compensation package for West Midlands rail users which will recognise the planned national fares increase in January.

"We are discussing with the Mayor and the DfT how best to deliver this. Subject to approval, we will announce details of the package early in the new year.”

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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