Carlisle MP questions Prime Minister over renewal of Avanti West Coast contract

Mr Stevenson raised the controversial contract renewal during Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday 14 December. Credit: PA Images

The Prime Minister has been asked whether he'd be willing to strip Avanti West Coast of its franchise, if promised improvements are not made.

Rishi Sunak was quizzed on the issue by Carlisle MP John Stevenson during Prime Ministers Questions.

The rail operator's contract was renewed by the government in the autumn, with a warning that the service must "dramatically" improve.

Mr Stevenson said: "A three-and-a-half-hour journey now takes six hours, a straight journey ends up with two changes and a diversion, and a train is cancelled at short notice.

"This has become the experience of a west coast rail passenger. 

"If Avanti do not get their act together, will the government strip them of their franchise?"

John Stevenson MP questions Rishi Sunak at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

The Prime Minister replied saying he "shared the frustration" of passengers, but that the government’s priority was the restoration of services before making any long term decisions on the future of the west coast franchise.

The latest official figures show that less than 39% of Avanti West Coast trains ran on time between July and September this year.

Avanti has apologised and said that issues such as drivers no longer agreeing to work overtime, limited capacity for training during the pandemic, and high rates of staff sickness were all factors in the decline of the service.

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