Avanti West Coast contract extended for 6 months and “challenged” to deliver urgent increase in services
A train operator which slashed services from North Wales and Chester to London has been placed on a short-term contract and “challenged” to deliver an urgent increase in services.
Over the past few months, Avanti West Coast has seen major operational issues primarily caused by a shortage of available drivers.
Avanti’s contract with the UK Government to run services on the West Coast Main Line was up for renewal at the end of next week, it has now been extended for 6 months.
The move has been slammed by the Deputy Mayor of Flint, Cllr Ben Goldsborough tweeted: “A 6 month extension to Avanti’s contract is a slap in the face of everyone in North Wales.”
“From slashing services to delays, this company isn’t fit to run a bath! We need public ownership now.”
Last month the leader of Flintshire council, Ian Roberts was amongst a group of business and local authority leaders who called on the UK Government to remove the passenger contract from the operator after it slashed services.
The Growth Track 360 partnership is urging the UK Department for Transport (DfT) to remove the contract to operate West Coast passenger rail services from Avanti West Coast following the withdrawal of all direct trains between North Wales and London.
There is currently only one direct service per day between London, Chester and Wrexham whilst a shuttle service links Crewe and Holyhead via Chester.
Avanti West Coast introduced a reduced timetable, saying it was due to the “current industrial relations climate” which has resulted in severe staff shortages.
It also said the majority of drivers “declared themselves unavailable for overtime, our customers have faced multiple short-notice cancellations on our network which has had a severe impact on their plans.”
But train drivers union Aslef said Avanti does not “employ enough drivers to run the services they have promised to run.”
The UK government has said that “nearly 100 additional drivers will have entered formal service this year between April and December.”
“This has meant the company has begun to add more services as new drivers and those who need re-training become available to work. They have also added extra trains on its key London-Manchester and London-Birmingham routes, bringing service levels closer to normal running.”
With Avanti’s previous contract coming to an end, the short-term extension will see it continue to run services on the route until 1 April 2023.
“This window is designed to provide Avanti with the opportunity to improve their services. The government will then consider Avanti’s performance while finalising a National Rail Contract that will have a renewed focus on resilience of train services and continuity for passengers.” The UK government said.
Avanti’s service improvement plans includes, “the successful delivery of its timetable recovery plan and a significant, sustained and reliable increase from about 180 trains per day to 264 trains per day on weekdays as new and retrained drivers become available.”
Avanti has to continue to “deliver on its traincrew recruitment and plans to reduce reliance on rest day working to operate services and extend booking options for passengers, making the full range of tickets available as early as possible.”
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:
“We need train services which are reliable and resilient to modern day life. Services on Avanti have been unacceptable and while the company has taken positive steps to get more trains moving, it must do more to deliver certainty of service to its passengers.”
“We have agreed a 6-month extension to Avanti to assess whether it is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect.”
“The problems facing Avanti over recent weeks stem from old working practices that mean shifts are often covered by existing drivers volunteering to work above their 35 contracted hours.”
“This antiquated practice shows just how urgent it is for us to modernise our railways, so passengers benefit from reliable services that don’t rely on the goodwill of drivers volunteering to work overtime.”
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