Avanti and CrossCountry given new contracts despite less than half …

Two of the UK’s most unreliable train services have been awarded renewed long-term contracts despite latest figures showing less than half of their trains run on time.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that Avanti West Coast[1] and CrossCountry will continue to run services despite complaints from passengers over poor reliability.

Transport minister Mark Harper insisted both firms had made significant improvements in recent months but Labour said passengers would be “appalled” at the new contracts.

According to figures from watchdog the Office of Rail and Road[2], 46.1 per cent of Avanti services and 49.7 per cent of CrossCountry services ran on time, compared to a national average of 70.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, 10.2 per cent of Avanti services and 6.5 per cent of CrossCountry services ran 15 minutes late[3] or more, compared to a national average of 1.6 per cent.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: “Passengers who rely on this abysmal service[4] will be appalled that, despite being almost rock bottom of the league table for delays, Avanti is being awarded a lucrative new contract.

“That’s on top of millions of pounds in performance bonuses.

“The only reliable thing about Britain’s railways under the Tories is the waste of taxpayers’ money, which the Government has put into the pockets of shareholders.

“Rather than rewarding failing operators[5] by renewing their contracts, Labour would end this scandal by bringing them back into public ownership as they expire and put passengers first.”

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston, wrote on Twitter[6]: “Nine more years of Avanti! The people of the North West deserve better than this poor service! Typical tories tying the country into a long-term contract which is totally unjustified on performance!”

Avanti’s new deal, which starts on 15 October, has a maximum length of nine years but can be axed after three years.

CrossCountry’s contract has a maximum term of eight years but can be terminated at any point after four years.

Bruce Williamson, of passenger group Railfuture[7] told i the reason the DfT has awarded the two underperforming companies new contracts was likely to be a case of “better the devil they know”.

He said: “Actually CrossCountry have pulled their socks up. You would hope that the threat of the Government pulling out of these nine-year contracts early would be enough to encourage better management.”

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The disruption that could be caused by a change in services between the South and the Midlands, North of England and Scotland was not seen to be worth the risk, he added.

The DfT said the proportion of Avanti’s trains cancelled had been cut to “as low as 1.1 per cent over the past year”, but between April and June, Avanti had 3.5 per cent of its trains cancelled.

Avanti is owned by First Trenitalia, a joint venture between Scotland-based FirstGroup and Italian rail operator Trenitalia, which is part-owned by the Italian government. It runs routes between London Euston and the North West of England, Scotland and north Wales.

Avanti West Coast was previously handed two consecutive six-month contracts and ordered to develop a recovery plan after drivers refused to work paid overtime shifts.

Its contract is under the West Coast Partnership (WCP), which also involves the company being the shadow operator for HS2.

CrossCountry is owned by Sunderland-based Arriva, which is a subsidiary of the German state railway company Deutsche Bahn. It operates intercity and long-distance passenger trains across Great Britain, but does not serve London.

It has been badly disrupted by staff striking[8] in a dispute over working conditions, with a total of 6.8 per cent of its trains cancelled altogether between April and June.

Avanti West Coast managing director Andy Mellors said: “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 2 per cent of scheduled services.

“The last year has been challenging but I would like to thank our customers as well as stakeholders for their patience.”

Tom Joyner, CrossCountry managing director, said: “CrossCountry will continue to build on the improvements we have made to the onboard service and plan to make substantial improvements to all services across the network.”


  1. ^ Avanti West Coast (inews.co.uk)
  2. ^ Office of Rail and Road (dataportal.orr.gov.uk)
  3. ^ late (inews.co.uk)
  4. ^ abysmal service (inews.co.uk)
  5. ^ rewarding failing operators (inews.co.uk)
  6. ^ wrote on Twitter (twitter.com)
  7. ^ Railfuture (www.railfuture.org.uk)
  8. ^ badly disrupted by staff striking (inews.co.uk)