Welsh MP criticises decision to renew Avanti West Coast’s contract
The UK Government’s decision to renew Avanti West Coast’s contract has been criticised at Westminster by a Welsh MP.
Clwyd West MP David Jones said the decision will be “very badly received” by passengers in north Wales. The former Conservative cabinet minister also described the rail operator’s services as substandard and called for its performance to be closely monitored in future.
The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that Avanti West Coast had been awarded a new long-term contract this morning (19 September).
Latest Office of Rail and Road figures show Avanti West Coast is Britain’s second worst performing operator for punctuality, with only 48% of stops at stations made within one minute of timetables in the four weeks to August 19.
The new long-term deal comes after Avanti 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.
The new deal, which starts on October 15, has a maximum length of nine years but can be axed after three years.
David Jones told the Commons: “It pains me to say it but I have to tell (transport minister Jesse Norman) that the decision his department has made today will be very badly received in north Wales.
“North Wales passengers have had to endure a substandard service from Avanti for far too long and the prime example of that was this summer at the height of the holiday season, which is so important to north Wales, Avanti decided to cut four services and also provided virtually no through services from London to the region.
“Can (Mr Norman) assure the House that his department will be keeping a very close eye on Avanti’s performance in north Wales over the coming months and years and that, if necessary, they will terminate the franchise that has been confirmed today?”
Mr Norman said the Department for Transport will “remain very focused on continuing to hold this company to account” for its services.
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%).
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