Shropshire Star

Labour: Passengers will be ‘appalled’ at new contracts for train operators

The Department for Transport announced that Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry will continue to run services.

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An Avanti West Coast train

Passengers will be “appalled” that long-term contracts have been handed to two of Britain’s least punctual train operators, according to Labour.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry will continue to run services.

This is despite latest Office of Rail and Road figures showing Avanti West Coast is Britain’s second worst performing operator in the country for punctuality, with only 48% of stops at stations made within one minute of timetables in the four weeks to August 19.

CrossCountry had the fourth lowest figure at 52%, while the average across all operators was 71%.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “Passengers who rely on this abysmal service will be appalled that, despite being almost rock bottom of the league table for delays, Avanti is being awarded a lucrative new contract.

“That’s on top of millions of pounds in performance bonuses.

“The only reliable thing about Britain’s railways under the Tories is the waste of taxpayers’ money, which the Government has put into the pockets of shareholders.

“Rather than rewarding failing operators by renewing their contracts, Labour would end this scandal by bringing them back into public ownership as they expire and put passengers first.”

Avanti West Coast’s new deal, which starts on October 15, has a maximum length of nine years but can be axed after three years.

CrossCountry’s contract has a maximum term of eight years but can be terminated at any point after four years.

Both operators have suffered disruption due to industrial action.

Avanti West Coast’s long-term deal comes after it was handed two consecutive six-month contracts and ordered to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital routes, which was largely attributed to drivers refusing to work paid overtime shifts.

The proportion of its trains being cancelled has been cut to “as low as 1.1% over the past year”, the DfT said.

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.”

Avanti West Coast runs trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow Central, with branches to Birmingham, North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

It is a joint venture between FirstGroup (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia (30%).

Avanti West Coast managing director Andy Mellors said: “Over the last six months, we have delivered significant and sustained improvements in operational performance and customer satisfaction.

“Cancellations that Avanti West Coast is responsible for have stabilised at below 2% of scheduled services.

“The last year has been challenging but I would like to thank our customers as well as stakeholders for their patience.”

Avanti West Coast’s contract is under the West Coast Partnership, which also involves the company being the shadow operator for HS2.

CrossCountry’s network stretches from Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland to Penzance in western Cornwall via Birmingham.

It is owned by Arriva, which is a UK-based subsidiary of the German state railway operator Deutsche Bahn.

A spokeswoman for the operator said its performance is improving after being hit by several issues between April and June, such as industrial action, the closure of the Nuneham Viaduct in Oxfordshire and infrastructure works at Birmingham New Street.

Tom Joyner, CrossCountry managing director, said: “CrossCountry will continue to build on the improvements we have made to the onboard service and plan to make substantial improvements to all services across the network.”

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