Avanti West Coast described taxpayer funding as “free money” during an internal meeting with managers.

The train operator apologised after displaying the message on a presentation slide.

Avanti West Coast run trains through Cumbria and operate Carlisle train station.

Novara Media, which first reported the incident, said the meeting happened on January 12 and was attended by managing director Andy Mellors.

It published an image showing a slide with the title: “Roll-up, roll-up get your free money here!”.

Another slide explained how train operators are paid bonuses by the Government even if services are not run completely to schedule, under the service quality regime (SQR).

This included the statement: “Sound too good to be true? Well on this occasion – it isn’t – it’s the absolute truth!”

In September last year, Avanti West Coast’s operating contact was controversially renewed by the Department for Transport for up to nine years, with Transport Secretary Mark Harper claiming it was “back on track” following major disruption.

Figures from both Labour and the Conservatives in Cumbria had called for Avanti to be stripped of its contract. 

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told Novara Media: “Avanti is one of the worst rail companies in terms of performance and how it treats rail staff.

“For senior management to produce a PowerPoint slide bragging about the Government paying them public money is a disgrace.

“The Government has the mandate over Avanti and should never have given them a long-term nine-year contract award.

“The fact that the company feels emboldened to boast that they get ‘free money’ is down to the ridiculous system of rail ownership in this country.

“Ultimately profit driven companies who receive huge public subsidies have failed to deliver for railway workers and passengers alike. And that’s why we need public ownership of the entire network.”

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “This does not represent Avanti West Coast’s view of the service quality regime and was an isolated incident.

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“These slides were an attempt to explain how the SQR works to some of our colleagues, but the language used in this presentation was regrettable and we apologise for this.

“The service quality regime is a robust and independent audit which we take very seriously.

“It has been demonstrated to hold us to account to drive up standards as we strive to continually improve our customer service.”