The Britain’s Department for Transport (DfT) awarded West Coast Partnership a new long-term national rail contract (NRC) which will enable them to deliver improved services for passengers, after dramatically reducing cancellations to as low as 1.1% over the past year.
West Coast Partnership is owned by FirstGroup (70%) and Trenitalia UK Ltd (30%). The new national rail contract will commence on 15 October 2023, when operator’s current contractual agreement ends and the 9-year extended contract has a minimum core three-year term to 18 October 2026, following which a further six years until 17 October 2032, subject to ongoing DfT approval.
The 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.
Avanti is working through a GBP 117 million (EUR 135.4 million) refurbishment programme for its 56-strong electric Pendolino fleet which is delivering a step change in onboard customer experience. Further improvements for customers have included the introduction of a new Standard Premium travel class, a new low-cost flexible ticket and initiatives to support customers who require additional assistance.
As part of the new contract, Avanti West Coast will continue to develop and implement initiatives to reduce its impact on the environment and, as such, Avanti has placed a GBP 350 million (EUR 405 million) order for 23 brand new electric or bi-mode trains from Hitachi. These trains will reduce our carbon footprint, and the operator will continue its work to improve air quality and increase waste recycling.
After the DfT 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 with cancellations consistently being below 3% since March 2023, and as low as 1.1% in July 2023, down from 13% in January 2023. In addition, over 90% of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, improved from 75% in December 2022, while over 100 additional drivers have been trained and brought on since April 2022.