Avanti secures West Coast Main Line extension

Avanti West Coast will continue to run the Liverpool to London rail service until at least October in a new deal with the Government. Tony McDonough reports

Avanti West Coast
An Avanti West Coast train at Lime Street Station in Liverpool. Picture by Tony McDonough


Avanti West Coast is to carry on running the West Coast Main Line service for another six months despite numerous complaints of poor service.

On Monday, Avanti owner FirstGroup announced it had reached agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue running the service, which links Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham with London.

However, Transport Secretary Mark Harper warned the operators there was “still more work to be done to bring services up to the standards we expect”.

Passengers, business leaders and politicians reacted with fury and disbelief when Avanti introduced a reduced timetable in August 2022. Avanti blamed the move on “unofficial strike action” by members of rain drivers’ union Aslef. The union denied the claim.

Under the changes services were reduced and tickets not made available to purchase until a few days in advance. In October the DfT put Avanti on a six-month contract and warned it would lose the contract if there wasn’t a big improvement. Since then a “recovery timetable” has been introduced.

Mr Harper said: “The routes Avanti West Coast run are absolutely vital, and I fully understand the frustrations passengers felt at the completely unacceptable services seen last autumn.

“Following our intervention, rail minister Huw Merriman and I have worked closely with local leaders to put a robust plan in place, which I’m glad to see is working.

“However, there is still more work to be done to bring services up to the standards we expect, which is why over this next six months further improvements will need to be made by Avanti West Coast.”

Called the West Coast Partnership (WCP), the current contract was due to end on March 31. It will now run until October 15 under broadly the same terms and conditions. Discussions are ongoing with DfT regarding the longer-term National Rail Contract for WCP.

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Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup chief executive, said: “We are working closely with Government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway for our customers and communities.

“Performance at Avanti is steadily improving and since the introduction of the new timetable in mid-December, the number of services operated 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.”

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