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New contract for one of Britain’s least reliable train operators

CrossCountry, whose network stretches across large parts of the country, will continue to run services.

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A CrossCountry train

One of Britain’s least reliable train operators has been handed a long-term contract renewal.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that CrossCountry, whose network stretches across large parts of the country, will continue to run services.

It also renewed Avanti West Coast’s contract.

Office of Rail and Road (ORR) figures show the equivalent of 6.8% of CrossCountry services were cancelled between April and June.

That was the third highest proportion across all operators, behind only Grand Central and Transport for Wales Rail.

CrossCountry’s network stretches from Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland to Penzance in western Cornwall via Birmingham.

It is owned by Arriva, which is a UK-based subsidiary of the German state railway operator Deutsche Bahn.

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.

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 shifts.

The proportion of its trains being cancelled has been cut to “as low as 1.1% over the past year”, the DfT said.

The operator runs trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow Central, with branches to Birmingham, North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

It is a joint venture between FirstGroup (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia (30%).

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.”

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

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.

“These include programmes to refurbish the existing fleet and to introduce new, more environmentally friendly trains, which will encourage more passengers to return to the network and help deliver the UK’s decarbonisation agenda.”

FirstGroup said the deal is a management contract under which the DfT “retains all revenue risk and substantially all cost risk”.

The WCP will earn a fixed annual management fee of £5.1 million, with the opportunity to earn a variable fee of up to £15.8 million per year based on criteria such as punctuality.

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.”

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