Fury as the Department for Transport hands new contracts worth …
Fury as the Department for Transport hands new contracts worth millions to CrossCountry and Avanti West Coast train operators - despite HALF of their services arriving late
- Firms are among the country's least timely train companies, figures show
- Avanti deal worth up to £188.1m over nine years, including bonuses
Two of Britain's least reliable train operators have been handed long-term contracts worth millions of pounds - despite half of their services arriving late.
CrossCountry, whose network stretches across large parts of the country, will continue to run services, as will Avanti West Coast, which has been handed a new deal worth up to £188.1million.
But the decision by the Department for Transport has prompted fury after figures revealed less than half of their services arrived on time between April and June this year.
Their punctuality has worsened compared to the same time period in 2022, data from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found.
Labour has slammed the Government, claiming long-suffering passengers will be 'appalled' to learn they are being allowed to continue operating major routes across the country.
An Avanti West Coast train. Avanti has been given a new contract worth up to £188.1m by the Department for Transport despite poor punctuality and widespread cancellations
A CrossCountry train in Hampshire. Transport firm Arriva, which is owned by German state railway firm Deutsche Bahn, has not declared how much it is being paid for the new deal
Labour says that passengers will be 'appalled' to learn that the firms have been given new contracts despite official figures showing they are among the worst-performing operators
ORR figures also show that the equivalent of 6.8% of CrossCountry services were cancelled between April and June, but the DfT said that the rate of Avanti cancellations has dropped 'as low as 1.1% over the past year' as it sought to defend giving the firm a fresh deal.
CrossCountry's network stretches from Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland to Penzance in western Cornwall via Birmingham. It is a joint venture between FirstGroup (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia (30%).
Avanti, meanwhile, runs trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow Central, with branches to Birmingham, North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.
CrossCountry's services have been badly disrupted by staff striking in a dispute over working conditions.
Its new contract, which starts on October 15, has a maximum term of eight years but can be terminated at any point after four years.
Avanti West Coast's new deal has a maximum length of nine years but can be axed after three years - during which the West Coast Partnership (WCP) will be paid a £5.1m management fee and up to £15.8m in performance bonuses each year.
The WCP is comprised of transport firm FirstGroup and Trenitalia, the partially state-owned Italian transport operator.
It comes after Avanti West Coast was handed two consecutive six-month contracts and ordered to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital routes, which was largely attributed to drivers refusing to work paid overtime.
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.'
Transport secretary Mark Harper (left) says Avanti is 'back on track' - but Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh (right) says customers will be 'appalled' it has been given a new deal
Avanti was given two six-month contract extensions to turn its woeful performance around - an issue it attributed to drivers refusing to work paid overtime
FirstGroup chief executive Graham Sutherland 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.'
FirstGroup said the deal is a management contract under which the DfT 'retains all revenue risk and substantially all cost risk'.
Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry - how do they stack up against other mainline firms?Official figures, Apr-Jun 2023 OperatorOn timeCancelled Caledonian Sleeper70.8%3.1% LNER60.5% 3.3%Lumo59.2% 2.1%CrossCountry 49.7% 6.8%Avanti West Coast 46.1% 3.5% Source: Office of Road and Rail Advertisement
Arriva, a UK-based subsidiary of German state railway operator Deutsche Bahn, operates CrossCountry services. It has not disclosed how much it will be paid by the DfT under the new contract.
David Brown, Arriva's UK trains managing director, said: Group's Managing Director of its UK Trains division commented: 'I'm proud of our long-standing reputation in the UK rail industry and our track record of successfully managing and delivering train services across the country.'
But Labour's shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: 'Passengers who rely on this abysmal service 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 by renewing their contracts, Labour would end this scandal by bringing them back into public ownership as they expire and put passengers first.'
SNP MP Gavin Newlands, addressing deputy transport secretary Jesse Norman in the Commons on Tuesday, said: 'In his letter to MPs the Secretary of State says that “Avanti is the most improved operator where performance is compared to the previous year.”
'Well, that would not be particularly hard—talk about setting yourself a low bar. This award will be seen by most people as rewarding failure.'