Rail operator, Avanti West Coast, has been awarded a contract extension after the government said it had seen ‘significant improvement’ in performance.

Avanti had been under significant pressure to improve after the government twice extended their contract by just six months, but the government has now awarded the company a core term of 3 years and a maximum possible term of 9 years on the West Coast Mainline.

The operator had been criticised by Cumbrian politicians of all parties after months of poor performance through the county with some calling for the franchise to be stripped completely.

Cancellations have been below three per cent since March 2023, down from 13 per cent in January 2023 and 90 per of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, improved from 75 per cent in December 2022 according to the government.

Commenting on the announcement, Avanti West Coast Managing Director Andy Mellors said: “The National Rail Contract for the West Coast Partnership announced today provides stability for customers and colleagues as we continue to rebuild trust as well as confidence.

“Over the last six months, we have delivered significant and sustained improvements in operational performance and customer satisfaction.

“Cancellations that Avanti West Coast is responsible for have stabilised at below two percent of scheduled services.

“The last year has been challenging but I would like to thank our customers as well as stakeholders for their patience.

“There are still challenges ahead but plenty to look forward to on our network including customer benefits such as the continued award-winning refurbishment of our Pendolinos and the introduction of our new Hitachi fleet, which will increase capacity and further improve our sustainability credentials.”

The move has been heavily criticised by the RMT union who said it was a ‘travesty’ that the contract had been extended.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Avanti are one of the worst rail companies on the network and it is a travesty that they have been awarded this contract.

“From supplying inappropriate uniforms to staff, mass cancellation of train services and multiple industrial disputes, Avanti have been an unmitigated disaster. They are incapable of running an efficient rail service or treating the staff properly.

“By granting companies like Avanti with lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts, the government is rewarding abject failure and exposing how corrupt the current system is.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that Avanti were ‘back on track’.

“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,” said Mr Harper

“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.”