FirstGroup has struck a short-term deal with the government to continue its contract for the West Coast Partnership (WCP) until Match next year.
The Department for Transport placed the operator on a six-month contract and “challenged it to deliver the urgent increase in services required”.
The deal includes the operation of Avanti West Coast, which is operating under an Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement (ERMA), in wake of “major operational issues.
According to the DfT, almost 100 additional drivers entered formal service this year between April and December, in wake of major driver shortages.
Last month, Avanti begged ministers to relieve it from performance target deadlines, after struggling with driver shortages.
The plan under the contract extension includes a timetable recovery plan, increasing trains from 180 a day to 264.
It also includes a recruitment drive and reducing reliance on ‘rest day working’.
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We need train services which are reliable and resilient to modern day life. Services on Avanti have been unacceptable and while the company has taken positive steps to get more trains moving, it must do more to deliver certainty of service to its passengers.”
“We have agreed a 6-month extension to Avanti to assess whether it is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect.
The ERMA was put in place in September 2020 to support the firm and passengers during the pandemic.
The extension of the contract with the Department for Transport, which was due to expire on 16 October, will run under roughly the same terms until next March.
The government is in discussions regarding the long-term National Rail Contract for the WCP.
“We are committed to working closely with government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway that serves the needs of our customers and communities” Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup Chief Executive said.
“Today’s agreement allows our team at Avanti West Coast to sustain their focus on delivering their robust plan to restore services to the levels that passengers rightly expect.”