Embattled UK train operator Avanti West Coast has been ordered to “drastically improve” services after the UK government on Friday (7 October) agreed to a six-month contract extension.
Avanti, which operates services from London’s Euston station to Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, has been plagued by operational issues in recent months, with West Coast managing director Phil Whittingham stepping down in September after staff shortages and labour strikes led to timetable cuts across key services.
Its current rail contract was due to expire on 16 October, but will now run until 1 April 2023 with strict conditions stipulated by the Department for Transport to rollout a recovery plan and “deliver long-overdue reliability for passengers”.
In a statement the department said the short-term extension will allow the operator to “stabilise its operational challenges” and “urgently increase” weekday services from about 180 trains to 264 trains per day before a longer-term contract is considered.
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.”
The company plans to hire 100 additional drivers by December and has begun to add more services on key routes between London and Manchester and London and Birmingham.
Graham Sutherland, CEO of Avanti parent company FirstGroup, said: “We are committed to working closely with government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway that serves the needs of our customers and communities.”
He said the extension will allow the team to “focus on delivering their robust plan to restore services to the levels that passengers rightly expect”.
In separate statement released on Friday, Avanti West Coast warned travellers to avoid unnecessary train travel on 8 October as a planned strike action will see a “significantly reduced” Saturday timetable.