FirstGroup ‘rewarded for failure’ with Avanti deal
FirstGroup has secured a six month extension to its west coast rail franchise with the Department for Transport amid accusations it is a ‘reward for failure’.
The current arrangements for the West Coast Partnership were due to expire on 31 March and are now extended to 15 October under broadly the same terms and conditions.
The WCP rail contract comprises the operation of Avanti West Coast and acting as shadow operator to the HS2 programme. Discussions are ongoing with DfT regarding the longer-term National Rail Contract for WCP.
Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup chief executive, said: “Performance at Avanti is steadily improving and since the introduction of the new timetable in mid-December, the number of services has increased by more than 40% compared to last summer, with more seats and better frequencies.
“Today’s agreement allows our team to continue their focus on delivering their robust plans to continue enhancing services for our customers, including further progress on our train upgrade and refurbishment programme.”
However, the trade union TSSA today accused the government of “rewarding failure” as Avanti is still banning most advanced ticket sales and continuing to operate a significantly reduced intercity service.
TSSA General Secretary, Peter Pendle, said, “Avanti are driving passenger costs up and services down, yet the government have just handed them a lucrative extension to their contract.
“No advanced ticket sales, services from London to Manchester still cut to just one train an hour – this is not the kind of railway that passengers deserve.
“The Conservatives are rewarding Avanti’s failure with another chance to let passengers down rather than doing the right thing and bringing the West Coast route into public ownership.”
Louise Haigh, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Avanti has literally broken records over the last six months for delays and cancellations, and the Conservatives’ answer is to reward failure with millions more in taxpayer cash.
“If this is what success looks like to ministers, it shows that under the Conservatives our broken railways are here to stay.
“The next Labour government will put passengers back at the heart of our railways, and build the infrastructure fit for the century ahead unlocking jobs and growth.”