Avanti West Coast admits: we’re not good enough but are making progress

Operator insists service will be turned round by Christmas as travellers report late and overcrowded trains

Avanti West Coast bosses have admitted “we’re still not good enough”, a week after its contract was controversially renewed, but insisted that the failing intercity train service will be turned round by Christmas.

The train operator cut back its schedules and stopped selling advance tickets in August, blaming a lack of staff overtime – causing enormous disruption to Britain’s major rail artery linking cities between London and Glasgow.

Passengers have continued to report dirty, late and overcrowded trains.

In a grovelling apology on Friday, Avanti’s director of corporate affairs, Richard Scott, said: “We know we’re not good enough, we’re still not good enough, but we’re still making progress.

“I’m very, very sorry for the situation people are in, we are letting our customers down, we are not giving the communities that we serve the service they deserve,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Scott suggested that media scrutiny of Avanti was partly to blame, when questioned why the First Group and Trenitalia-owned operator was the worst-performing line in the country.

He said: “I don’t recognise that description. We are working through a very acute set of problems at the moment that we are facing, and we are making progress.”

A “sudden and dramatic drop off in the number of drivers volunteering to work rest days” this summer prompted Avanti’s mass cancellations, Scott told a transport select committee hearing earlier this week, adding: “I don’t why we’re so much worse, more seriously affected” than other companies.

He told MPs, and the BBC 0n Friday, that Avanti would get back to a “robust, sustainable timetable” that was not dependent on overtime, and would be running a near-normal pre-Covid timetable from mid-December, including three trains an hour from Manchester to London and two an hour from Birmingham to London. The firm will have had 100 newly trained drivers joining by the end of 2022.

The operator started to restore some of its timetable in late September, with more trains on peak times between Manchester and London, after cutting back to just one an hour between big cities.

Avanti was given a six-month extension to its contract last Friday, but told it must “drastically improve services” by the government. The decision dismayed northern leaders, with Transport for the North chair, ex-transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, warning that the “sub-par level of service is undermining economic growth and the wellbeing of many people across the region”.

About 5% of the planned trains this week were cancelled, approximately half due to lack of crew and staff sickness, an Avanti spokesperson said.


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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