The Department for Transport has granted Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry long-term contract renewals.
Avanti West Coast has previously been criticised for poor performance, largely attributed to drivers refusing overtime shifts. The operator was handed two consecutive six-month contracts and ordered to develop a recovery plan.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said Avanti West Coast is “back on track”.
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The proportion of its trains that are cancelled has been cut to “as low as 1.1% over the past year”, according to the DfT.
Beginning on October 15, the new contract has a maximum term of nine years but can be terminated at any point after three years with three months’ notice.
The operator is a joint venture between FirstGroup (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia (30%). It runs trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow Central, with branches to Birmingham, North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.
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’s contract is under the West Coast Partnership (WCP), which also involves the company being the shadow operator for HS2.
FirstGroup chief executive Graham Sutherland said: “Our West Coast Partnership team has worked hard over recent months to deliver improvements for Avanti passengers, including an increase in the number of services in the timetable and high levels of reliability for customers.
“The new National Rail Contract agreed today will allow our team to use its expertise on further improvements.
“These include programmes to refurbish the existing fleet and to introduce new, more environmentally friendly trains, which will encourage more passengers to return to the network and help deliver the UK’s decarbonisation agenda.”
FirstGroup said the deal is a management contract under which the DfT “retains all revenue risk and substantially all cost risk”.
The WCP will earn a fixed annual management fee of £5.1 million, with the opportunity to earn a variable fee of up to £15.8 million per year based on criteria such as punctuality.
CrossCountry has also received a contract renewal. It’s new contract can be terminated after four years and will run for a maximum of eight years.
Office of Rail and Road figures show the equivalent of 6.8% of CrossCountry services were cancelled between April and June, the third highest proportion across all operators, behind only Grand Central and Transport for Wales Rail.
CrossCountry’s network stretches from Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland to Penzance in western Cornwall via Birmingham.
It is owned by Arriva, a UK-based subsidiary of the German state railway operator Deutsche Bahn.
CrossCountry’s services have been badly disrupted by staff striking in a dispute over working conditions.