Posted 20th March 2024 | 3 Comments

Northern leaders’ group calls for Avanti nationalisation

The Board of Transport for the North has voted for the termination of the Avanti West Coast contract, which it says should be taken back into public control ‘at the earliest possibility’.

The meeting in Leeds had considered a report which said ‘a continuation of the current situation is unacceptable to the North’, and members approved a motion for a letter to be sent to transport secretary Mark Harper, calling for the operator to be transferred to the DfT’s Operator of Last Resort, at least for now. 

The OLR has already taken over four other former franchises in England, starting with LNER in 2018, which had been the failed Virgin Trains East Coast.

Avanti West Coast had been granted a National Rail Contract last October, after periods of ‘probationary’ operation. This contract is due to run until October 2032 at the latest.

Two options were considered by the Board. One was to set a target for improvement by June or face ‘further measures’ or to terminate the contract straight away. 

After hearing from Avanti’s managing director Steve Montgomery about the poor performance over many months the board chose the second option.

TfN wrote to the transport secretary in December, asking him to instruct officials to conduct a critical review of Avanti West Coast, given the deteriorating service, after the operator announced a number of cuts to services over Christmas.

TfN chair Lord McLoughlin said: ‘Today’s board was very clear. The performance on the West Coast Main Line by Avanti has been so poor, for so long that action now must be taken.

‘We will be writing statutory advice today to the secretary of state calling for Avanti to be relieved of its contract. The travelling public deserve a service they can rely on. But Avanti has fallen far too short of expectations for far too long now.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    When operational decisions are being made by Civil Servants or by the seemingly questionable First group , whose reputation is not a good one, we can ask "why ?" The whole idea of contracts between TOCs and government throws up the school of economics used by mediaeval monarchs , who would grant a royal monopoly to their chosen tradesperson

    If we continue with a privatised railway, then the operating companies need to be able to compete directly ; this already is routine on both Italian and Spanish High Speed networks,for example, and seems to be succesfull.*

    Those natural monopolies , where competition is not feasible, need to be answerable to a directly elected regional commissioner .

    Any subsidies should be on a performance- related, incentivising basis , to give government their influence over operations.

    [*And where I understand advance booking is also required. These are more like airlines, so goodbye to the 'walk-up' railway. I would say 'be careful what you wish for', but on present trends the privatised passenger railway seems to be on its last lap.--Ed.]

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    Firstbus should be stripped of ALL franchises, regardless if GWR is (allegedly) well managed by Mr Hopwood. Their conduct at TPE and Avanti warrants a total ban on FirstGroup due to their disgraceful behaviour.

    This should include the sponging, state money leech, Lumo - NOT an Open Access operator, but a help-yourself-to-the-DfT-existing-market-farebox operator. Hull Trains should also be banned and absorbed by LNER.

    Now is the time to finally get rid of the worst commercial parasite ever, ruining our railway for 25 years.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Prior to Avanti taking over the West Coast franchise under Virgin it had benefited from a well resourced operation that had been stable since the introduction of the VHF timetable.

    While the effects of a global pandemic have been unwelcome under the current stewardship of Avanti & DfT something has gone seriously wrong. I'm sure they'll be hiding behind the small print of the contracts as to responsibility. However under the stewardship of Lord McLouchlin, a former Transport Sec well versed in the machinations of Whitehall, it is clear the support of a major stakeholder has lost. Rather than tinkering around the edges with Avanti time for a major reset. Embarrassing for the current Transport Sec & DfT but as has been shown with TPE when enough is enough drastic action is required.