AVANTI WEST Coast is optimistic its passenger numbers will return to pre-Covid levels in the next two to three years, its MD Phil Whittingham told the West Coast Partnership stakeholder conference on 24 March.

Mr Whittingham highlighted that in revenue terms Avanti had earned in the last year what it would have earned in a month pre-Covid. However, given that as a long-distance operator it is predominantly reliant on business and leisure travel, Mr Whittingham said the company was optimistic traffic would recover, particularly in view of the increased role for staycations.

Sarah Copley, Avanti’s Executive Director, Commercial, told the conference the operator had ‘expansive marketing plans’ to encourage passengers back to rail which would be launched ‘when the time is right’. She said she hoped these could be launched in June but said this could be brought forward, and highlighted the importance of aligning this with campaigns planned by the Rail Delivery Group and Network Rail.

Avanti has reviewed the commitments in its franchise, which began in December 2019, and has concluded most of what was in the franchise bid is still relevant, Mr Whittingham said, although some commitments have been deferred due to the pandemic. Ongoing commitments include the arrival of new trains from Hitachi and a refurbishment of the Class 390 Pendolino fleet, with the first train due to be outshopped from Alstom’s Widnes plant towards the end of the year. The refurbishment will include provision of new seats in standard class, with charging points at every seat, as well as the creation of a café-bar area. At-seat ordering of food and beverages, a new website and improved booking system and improvements to mobile connectivity are other ongoing commitments.

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