A new National Rail Contract (NRC) for the West Coast Partnership (WCP) has been agreed with the Department for Transport (DfT).
WCP comprises Avanti West Coast and West Coast Partnership Development – the Shadow Operator for the HS2 programme.
The NRC will commence on 15 October 2023 and will last until 17 October 2032 subject to ongoing DfT approval. It begins with a core three-year term to 18 October 2026.
Commenting on the announcement, Avanti West Coast Managing Director Andy Mellors said: “The National Rail Contract for the West Coast Partnership announced today provides stability for customers and colleagues as we continue to rebuild trust as well as confidence.
“Over the last six months, we have delivered significant and sustained improvements in operational performance and customer satisfaction. Cancellations that Avanti West Coast is responsible for have stabilised at below two percent of scheduled services. The last year has been challenging but I would like to thank our customers as well as stakeholders for their patience.
“There are still challenges ahead but plenty to look forward to on our network including customer benefits such as the continued award-winning refurbishment of our Pendolinos and the introduction of our new Hitachi fleet, which will increase capacity and further improve our sustainability credentials.”
Shamit Gaiger, Managing Director, of the West Coast Partnership Development, said: “The new National Rail Contract will enable us to continue to focus on the design, development and implementation of future high-speed services on the network as we aim to set new standards in UK rail.
“We are committed to working with our partners to realise the benefits these services will provide to our economy, communities and passengers. As the infrastructure is built, we will ensure customers are at the heart of future high-speed services on the West Coast.”
The Department for Transport says the long-term contract will enable them to deliver improved services for passengers, after dramatically reducing cancellations to as low as 1.1% over the past year.
A long-term contract will allow the operator to plan ahead, giving them the certainty they need to prepare advance timetables, roll out new train fleets and continue their work to improve services – benefitting passengers in both the short and long term.
This comes after the Department placed Avanti West Coast on two consecutive short-term, six-month contracts and ordered them to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital routes – including between Manchester, Birmingham and London – which were brought on by a shortage of available drivers.
Alongside the recovery plan which prioritised training new drivers, reducing reliance on rest day working and getting tickets on sale earlier, a recovery timetable was introduced which has seen services increase from 180 trains per day to 264 on weekdays – the highest level in over two years.
By the end of the first six-month contract in March, Avanti had already made significant progress towards its recovery, with 40% more services being run and cancellations within Avanti’s control falling to 4.2%. Those arrangements were further extended to ensure these improvements would continue and passengers would feel confident in using the services again.
Since then, Avanti West Coast’s services have seen further improvements:
- Cancellations have consistently been below 3% since March 2023, and as low as 1.1% in July 2023, down from 13% in January 2023.
- Over 90% of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, improved from 75% in December 2022.
- Over 100 additional drivers have been trained and brought on since April 2022.
- Improvements to passenger facilities on trains including better seats, lighting and charging points.
- The introduction of Travel Companion, a WhatsApp channel which passengers with accessibility needs can use to get real-time assistance and information on their journeys, allowing for a more seamless passenger experience for everyone.
Transport Secretary Mark 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.”
Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup Chief Executive Officer, 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.”
Photo credit: Avanti West Coast