Avanti contract extension a ‘slap in the face’ union says

Avanti blames union for delays - PA/ITV News Central
Union Aslef says the "decision to award this extension must be called in and reversed urgently." Credit: PA Images

The decision to renew Avanti West Coast's contract short term is a "slap in the face", the train drivers' union has said.

The Government extended the train provider's contract by six months, giving them the deadline to improve after saying it had provided an "unacceptable" service to rail users.

But Kevin Lindsay, an organiser from Aslef, has criticised the Government’s decision and called for the extension to be reversed.

He said: “In the train operating companies, Avanti are amongst the worst - failing their employees and the public alike.

“To reward their consistent failure by extending their contract for the London to Glasgow service is nothing more than a slap in the face to passengers and staff.

“This was an opportunity to return a vital transport service to public hands and to be run in the public interest.

"The decision to award this extension must be called in and reversed urgently.”

Avanti have been given six months to improve their services. Credit: PA

The rail firm’s contract has been extended from October 16, 2022, to April 1, 2023 in hopes Avanti will improve its services after the summer train reductions.

Shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, also described the extension of the contract as a “slap in the face for passengers” whilst Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, praised the Government for taking action.

Despite the praise, he has warned he is “hugely concerned” about its “failing service” lasting a further six months, he said: “Putting Avanti West Coast on notice marks a significant shift in tone under the new secretary of state.

“At last, there is a clear recognition of the crisis engulfing the country’s most important railway line and the management failure that has led to that.

“However, the lack of an acceptable rescue plan from the company – and clear conditions from the Government – means very few people in Greater Manchester will support this extension.”

Avanti West Coast said they are focused on providing a reliable train service Credit: PA

The company reduced its timetable from seven trains per hour to a minimum of four per hour on 14 August.

Trains were removed from the timetable in August to cut short-notice cancellations after a sharp decline in the number of drivers voluntarily working on rest days for extra pay.

Speaking about this, Burnham added: “The damage that Avanti’s failing service is inflicting on our economy, and the huge disruption to passengers, is completely unacceptable.

“The company has shown itself to be unable to stabilise their service and fix problems with ticketing and the on-board experience for passengers.

“The thought of another six months of what we’re currently experiencing is a huge concern.”

The Greater Manchester Mayor said that he is calling for the Government to undertake day-to-day monitoring and for week-to-week public reporting on performance to be introduced.

He will also call for a review to be undertaken in mid-December with mayors and leaders in places where Avanti West Coast operates.

The Department for Transport said nearly 100 additional drivers will have entered formal service this year between April and December, meaning more services have started to be added as new drivers become available to work.

It said the company is planning to increase from around 180 trains per day to 264 per day on weekdays.

As more drivers become available and recruitment continues it has said it will be extending booking options for passengers.

Last month, Avanti West Coast published a plan to reinstate some services on certain days from 27 September.

Timetables on other days were due to be boosted “as soon as possible” ahead of another increase on 11 December.

Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “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 six-month extension to Avanti to assess whether it is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect.”

FirstGroup, which co-owns Avanti West Coast in a joint venture with Italy’s Trenitalia, said it is “committed” to providing services that meet people’s needs.

Chief executive officer Graham Sutherland said: “We are committed to working closely with the Government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway that serves the needs of our customers and communities.

“Today’s agreement allows our team at Avanti West Coast to sustain their focus on delivering their robust plan to restore services to the levels that passengers rightly expect.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...