Minister summons Avanti West Coast bosses to meeting over ‘woeful’ rail service

Transport Secretary Louise Haigh wants to discuss performance on the West Coast Main Line.

Louise Haigh has been appointed Transport Secretary
Louise Haigh has been appointed Transport Secretary (UK Parliament/PA)

Labour’s new Transport Secretary is to call in train bosses who run services on the West Coast Main Line to discuss their performance.

Louise Haigh accused Avanti West Coast during the General Election campaign of providing a “woeful service” and said Labour would consider stripping the firm of its contract for the service, running from London up to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Cumbria and Glasgow.

Earlier this week, several newly elected Labour MPs criticised cancellations and disruptions on the line during their journeys to take up their seats in the House of Commons.

Ms Haigh was asked if Avanti was on “borrowed time”.

A departures board at Euston station shows delays on the West Coast main line
A departures board at Euston station shows delays on the West Coast main line (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The minister replied: “My views about Avanti are very well known, having served in the shadow brief for two-and-a-half years.

“And I will be calling them in with their Network Rail business unit very soon to address their performance and I’ve been working with my officials immediately to make sure we drive up performance standards.”

Asked when they will meet, Ms Haigh replied “imminently”.

Office of Rail and Road figures show Avanti West Coast had the third worst reliability of all operators in Britain in the year to the end of March, with the equivalent of one in 15 trains (6.9%) cancelled.

Ms Haigh said improving rail connectivity in the North was her number one priority and Labour has promised to bring all train services in England into public ownership.

It will do so as contracts expire – which is believed to require new legislation – or by ending agreements early in cases of poor performance.

The party has also said it would go ahead with the creation of Great British Railways, a new public sector body to oversee the network – first proposed by the Conservative government in May 2021.

Ms Haigh spoke after touring Oldham Bus Depot with Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

While there, the minister took to the wheel of a 14-tonne ADL 400 EV double decker bus, driving the vehicle for around 100 yards inside the depot.

Ms Haigh added: “This is the new hands-on approach that this Government takes to tackling the challenges we face.”

She added: “It was terrifying driving that!”

Ms Haigh was in Oldham to meet Mr Burnham to discuss how the region’s Bee Network can be replicated across the country to improve services and provide a “bus revolution”.

Labour will allow local authorities to take services back under local public control, as in Greater Manchester and in London.

The Bee Network, launched last September as the first bus franchise in England outside London, has seen passenger numbers grow by 5% in the first area to be franchised, with revenue following suit.

Mr Burnham pushed through a franchising model for bus services in the region, after what he called a “36-year fight” to bring them back under public control following deregulation under the Thatcher government in the 1980s.

Bus passenger figures fell sharply afterwards, with two billion fewer annual bus journeys in 2023 than in 1985.

The mayor has promised the new system will give public control over fares, routes and frequencies, with financial penalties for poor performance written into the five-year contracts for services.

The new network is currently rolling out across the region.