UK Government Renews Rail Contracts for Avanti West Coast and Cross Country
In a recent development, the UK government has decided to renew the rail contracts for Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry, two major rail operators. Despite concerns over delays and cancellations, both operators have been awarded contract extensions, with Avanti West Coast receiving a contract lasting up to nine years and CrossCountry up to eight years.
Avanti West Coast’s Renewed Contract
Avanti West Coast will continue to operate crucial rail routes connecting Scotland, Wales, Manchester, Liverpool, and London. This decision comes in the wake of significant issues, including delays and cancellations plaguing Avanti’s services.
Avanti West Coast and Cross Country have just been awarded new UK rail contracts.
They’re part-owned by the Italian and German governments.
Why doesn’t Britain run British railways?
Time we take our rail back into public ownership. pic.twitter.com/pZJzPvkBzv
— Trades Union Congress (@The_TUC) September 19, 2023
Challenges and Government Response
In response to these challenges, Transport Minister Jesse Norman addressed concerns raised by fellow MPs in the House of Commons. He acknowledged Avanti’s “disastrous underperformance” in 2022 and emphasized the need for the company to regain customer trust. Critics argued that passengers were actively seeking alternative routes to avoid Avanti due to overcrowding and service issues.
Government’s Trust in Avanti
Despite criticism, the government expressed confidence that Avanti West Coast was on the path to recovery and regaining passengers’ trust. However, some MPs, such as Labour’s Mike Amesbury, suggested that the contract renewal was based on the premise that Avanti had improved but was still perceived as subpar.
Public Opinion and Passenger Concerns
David Jones, a former Tory cabinet minister, voiced concerns that the decision to renew Avanti’s contract would be “very badly received” by passengers in north Wales, reflecting the public’s discontent with the operator’s performance.
Improved Performance Metrics
The Department for Transport reported significant improvements in Avanti West Coast’s performance. Cancellation rates fell from 13% in January to 3% in March and further to 1.1% in July of the same year. Since March, the cancellation rate has not exceeded 3%. Additionally, 90% of Avanti trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, marking a significant improvement from previous months.
Addressing Workforce and Service Issues
To address these challenges, Avanti West Coast trained and onboarded more than 100 additional drivers since April 2022. This move aimed to alleviate workforce shortages that had contributed to service disruptions.
Parallel Developments in the Rail Industry
Earlier in the year, the government took control of train operator TransPennine Express due to “months of continuous cancellations,” highlighting a broader trend of accountability in the rail industry.
Avanti West Coast is owned by the Italian train firm Trenitalia and the London-listed FirstGroup, while CrossCountry’s parent company is the German firm Deutsche Bahn. The renewed contracts for both operators will have a minimum duration of three years for Avanti West Coast and at least four years for CrossCountry.
Union Strikes and Industrial Action
Both Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry faced labor strikes following industrial action by rail worker unions that began in June 2022. These strikes have further complicated the challenges faced by these operators.
In conclusion, despite a troubled past, Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry have been granted contract renewals by the UK government, signaling a commitment to improving rail services and addressing past issues. However, the decision continues to be met with mixed reactions from both the government and the public.
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