West Midlands Trains ordered to spend extra £20 million on improvements
West Midlands Trains has been ordered to spend an extra £20 million on improving services after badly breaching its performance targets.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has laid out a series of demands for the failing operator, including timetable improvements and boosting recruitment to tackle train driver shortages.
Passengers across the region who use West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern services will also continue to be offered compensation for poor service with discounts on season tickets and off-peak fares.
The measures have been welcomed by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who in December warned the operator to “improve or lose the franchise” after describing its performance as “utterly woeful”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has billed the move as a major step in a crackdown on the country’s struggling train services, which has already seen Northern Rail stripped of its franchise.
Mr Shapps said: “One of my priorities is getting the trains to run on time, and as a commuter myself I understand all too well the frustration caused by endless delays and cancellations.
“West Midlands Trains have failed to fulfil their obligations – to their franchise agreement and, most importantly, to their passengers.
“The action we’re taking means they must invest in rapidly improving services, so that passengers have reliable, punctual trains they can rely on.”
The performance of WMT has improved over the last month, with an upturn in reliability to 90 per cent and a reduction in cancellations under the watch of new managing director Julian Edwards.
However, Mr Street said the franchise would remain under review.
"West Midlands Trains' performance at the back end of last year was absolutely woeful and it is only right, as I requested, that the firm must pay the price financially,” said Mr Street.
“I am also pleased to see this money will be re-invested locally to help restore the reliable service that passengers want and deserve.
"Since I issued my ultimatum of improve or lose the franchise, West Midlands Trains has got better and performance is statistically on the up.
“But I still have very serious concerns and, alongside the DfT, will be keeping the firm under strict review. I will not hesitate to ask for the franchise to be stripped if performance slips again."
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Every minute of delay adds up, and for far too long passengers have been left stuck on train platforms at the mercy of a fickle live departure board.
“Having our country’s trains run on time must be the rule, not the exception. This is a warning that operators simply must do better for their passengers.”
The additional funding will be used for a variety of measures including compensating passengers by offering a three per cent discount on season ticket renewals and offering a 10 per cent reduction in off-peak fares during July and August 2020.
Wide-ranging changes to timetables are planned for May 2020 and December 2020, while the recruitment of additional drivers and senior conductors to combat staffing shortages has been prioritised.
Since the operator brought in timetable changes last May its performance deteriorated to such an extent that it exceeded breach level on delay minutes and cancellations.
Under the terms of its contract, WMT is required to agree a ‘remedial plan’ to ensure that performance recovers.
Northern Rail's franchise was taken away from Aviva Trains North at the end of last month following years of major disruption for passengers.
Services will be operated by an 'arms-length' Government-owned company from March 1.
Julian Edwards, managing director of West Midlands Trains, said: "Our performance in the second half of last year was simply unacceptable and we apologise to all our customers for this. Passengers can be assured we have developed a robust recovery plan which builds on our recent improved reliability.
"It is right we continue to compensate our customers and we will shortly confirm further discounts covering February half-term and beyond. This is on top of the season ticket and summer discounts we have already implemented.
"We have held detailed discussions with the West Midlands Mayor and others to ensure this extra investment - over and above our original £1billion franchise commitment - benefits all our customers and restores the reliable rail service they deserve.
"We are fully focused on achieving this as quickly as possible. Every issue cannot be solved overnight and we thank our customers for their patience while we fix their service."