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Avanti West Coast wins long-term contract despite historic delays | Railway industry

Avanti, one of Britain’s most unreliable train operators, has won a long-term contract to continue operating intercity services on the West Coast Main Line.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper declared Avanti ‘back on track’ – although the regulator’s latest full performance report showed it was the least punctual operator, with less than half of services running on time from April to June.

The RMT union called the contract award a “parody” and Avanti a “total disaster”.

The company, a joint venture between First Group and TrenItalia, had already secured two six-month contract extensions with an improvement warning. Avanti has become synonymous with failure in 2022, abandoning its normal timetable and scheduling only a fraction of trains on the line linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

However, the Transport Ministry on Tuesday highlighted a “considerable reduction in cancellations” and 90% of trains running less than 15 minutes late, with more than 100 additional drivers trained, responding to the staff shortage which has contributed to the problems. ‘Before.

The number of services increased from 180 trains per day to 264 on weekdays, and the DfT said cancellations fell to 1.1% in July.

Avanti will operate the line for nine years, with the contract subject to termination after three years.

The deal is a renewed management contract, according to FirstGroup, in which the DfT “retains all revenue risks and substantially all cost risks”.

The joint venture, officially called the West Coast Partnership – initially expected to help bring HS2 trains into service – will receive a fixed annual management fee of £5.1m and up to £15.8m a year in performance payments.

Another long-distance operator, Arriva’s CrossCountry, was awarded an eight-year contract, with a minimum of four years. It was the second least punctual after Avanti from April to June this year, according to ORR, with the worst cancellation score of any DfT-contracted operator in England.

Harper said: “The routes operated by Avanti West Coast provide vital connections, and passengers need to be confident they can rely on services to get them where they need to be at the right time.

“Over the past year, short-term contracts have been necessary to rebuild the schedule and reduce cancellations. Today, Avanti is back on track, providing long-term certainty for the operator and passengers that will best ensure continued improvements.

Labor and unions criticized the decision. Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said: “Passengers who rely on this appalling service will be dismayed that, despite being near the bottom of the table for delays, Avanti has been awarded a lucrative new contract . »

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RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Avanti is one of the worst train companies on the network and it is a travesty that they have been awarded this contract.

“From providing inappropriate uniforms to staff, to mass cancellation of train services and multiple industrial disputes, Avanti has been a complete disaster. They are incapable of running an efficient train service or treating staff properly.

“CrossCountry fares little better, often not employing enough staff to properly run services and being more concerned with profit margins than delivering services to passengers.

“By awarding lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts to companies like Avanti and CrossCountry, the government is rewarding an abject failure. »

FirstGroup chief executive Graham Sutherland said: “Our team at West Coast Partnership have worked hard over recent months to deliver improvements for Avanti passengers, including an increase in the number of timetabled services and high levels of reliability for customers.

Independent watchdog Transport Focus said there was evidence of improvement. Director David Sidebottom said its latest user survey found passenger satisfaction with Avanti was now 87%, the highest level for over a year, adding: “Satisfaction with punctuality and attendance level is also recovering, although it remains lower than previous levels. »

theguardian Gt

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