December 9, 2023

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Avanti West Coast has been ordered to “significantly improve” service as its contract to operate trains between London and the UK’s major cities has been extended by six months.

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The government awarded Avanti a short-term contract despite its services being described as “unacceptable” after the company cut its services drastically in August, causing disruptions to passenger service.

The move means Avanti, whose contract expires on October 16, will continue to operate trains between the capital, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow until April next year.

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Avanti West Coast, co-owned by FirstGroup, blamed the failure on a lack of drivers.

Passengers bound for these cities faced significant disruptions after Avanti cut its schedule from seven trains per hour to a minimum of four per hour on August 14.

The route from London to Manchester was particularly hard hit as the number of trains was reduced to one per hour in each direction.

Avanti blamed the shortfall on a lack of drivers, with fewer volunteering to work weekends for extra pay.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Hay called the contract extension

Shadow transport secretary Louise Hay called the contract extension “a slap in the face for passengers.”

Transport Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Services on Avanti have been unacceptable and while the company has taken positive steps to increase the number of trains, it needs to do more to ensure its passengers are served reliably.

“We have agreed to a six-month extension for Avanti to assess whether it is capable of operating this important route to the standard that passengers deserve and expect.”

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The Ministry of Transport said Avanti has increased the number of flights on some routes and that 100 more drivers will be trained by the end of the year.

Avanti is majority-owned by London-listed FirstGroup and a minority partner of Trenitalia, an Italian state company.

FirstGroup said it was in talks with DfT for a longer-term contract.

“Today’s agreement allows our Avanti West Coast team to focus on implementing a robust plan to restore services to the level passengers rightly expect,” said Graham Sutherland, chief executive.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Hay called the contract extension “a slap in the face for passengers.”

She tweeted: “This is a reward for a terrible mishap and a slap in the face for the passengers.

“This bankrupt operator has caused travel problems and the government’s response is to hand over millions more in cash to taxpayers and doom passengers to even more chaos.”