Avanti West Coast train, via Istock

Avanti West Coast must show ‘it is capable’ to secure a further contract extension on the London to Glasgow line

After recent times of strife for rail operator Avanti West Coast, seeing major timetable and service issues, they have recently been granted a contract extension to run services on the London to Glasgow line for a further 6 months, culminating in April 2023.

Avanti have faced major criticisms since cutting their services from Manchester to London by a third in August this year, with Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan condemning their performances as “unacceptable.”

She would go further by saying:

"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 six-month extension to Avanti to assess whether it is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect."

This approach has been tentative as there are concerns that if Avanti were to be stripped of this contract entirely, it could create more disruptions and travel issues in the immediate future.

 Avanti have recently committed to boosting their services from 11th December 2022, promising an increased timetable, once they have had nearly 100 new drivers complete their training schemes.

Though this pledge is promising, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has written to the Transport Secretary, asking that the operator be forced to offer a minimum of two trains per hour between London and Manchester by the end of October.

Failure to comply to these standards should see the operator lose their contracts in the eyes of Mr Burnham, as he said:

"This would mean two more months of chaos on the West Coast Mainline in the interim, with resulting damage to our city-region's economy. 

"If 11 December is to be acceptable, Avanti must also commit to providing a consistent two trains per hour service between Manchester and London by the end of this month, as a staging post to full restoration of the timetable.

"Unless this happens and is clearly communicated, train travel between our most important economic regions will continue to be chaotic, forcing people into their cars or into abandoning plans to travel entirely.

"Without this commitment, I will be unable to support a new contract for Avanti."

This sentiment was echoed recently by Labour Party Leader Sir Kier Starmer when he was asked for comment on the situation on BBC Radio Manchester saying:

"I use those trains and know how frustrating it is."

Avanti had previously expected a 10-year contract renewal before the recent issues with timetable scheduling, however they must now become organised in a matter of 6 months if they can expect any further extensions throughout the upcoming contract renewal negotiations.

The issues that have plagued Avanti have stemmed from various sticking points such as heavy reliance on driver overtime due to number shortages, which have been exacerbated by consistent staff training backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and consistent disruptions caused by ongoing industrial action.

Avanti have commented on their plans to stabilise their services through creating a new culture within the operators’ practices by removing reliance on overtime workers and restoring a full timetable of three trains an hour all day between London and Manchester in December.

An Avanti spokesperson said:

"Our revised timetable, with no reliance on overtime, is also proving more reliable - in the last week we have run 300 trains between London and Manchester with approximately one in 30 of them cancelled mainly because of short-notice sickness.

"That compares with one out of 13 trains cancelled back in mid-July," the operator said.

"Nevertheless, we know at the moment we're not delivering the service our customers rightly expect and apologise for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this is causing."

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