NRC for Avanti following performance improvement

Avanti West Coast has been awarded a National Rail Contract running for up to nine years. The Department for Transport says this follows ‘significant improvements across reliability, punctuality and customer satisfaction’.

The joint venture of FirstGroup (70%) and Trenitalia (30%) has held the West Coast Partnership contract, comprising Avanti West Coast and the HS2 shadow operator West Coast Partnership Development, since December 2019. Following performance challenges in summer 2022, DfT opted to twice extend the Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement for a six-month period rather than award a long-term contract.

Beginning on 15 October, the NRC will run for up to nine years, with a minimum core three-year term. Majority owner FirstGroup says WCP will earn a fixed management fee of £5.1 million per annum to deliver the contract, with the opportunity to earn a variable fee of up to £15.8 million per annum scored against five performance categories – operational performance, customer satisfaction, financial performance, HS2 shadow operator delivery and HS2 shadow operator financial management. A mix of quantitative metrics and qualitative assessments is used, with three levels (‘below acceptable’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘good’) – First says an ‘acceptable’ rating results in approximately 65% of the variable fee element being payable. DfT will retain revenue risk and ‘substantially all cost risk up to the agreed annual business plan budgetary levels’.

DfT says the long-term contract will allow the operator to plan ahead, giving it certainty to prepare advance timetables, roll out new train fleets and continue work to improve services. First points out that since the introduction of the December 2022 timetable there has been a significant recovery in operational performance and customer satisfaction, with cancellations Avanti is responsible for having stabilised at below 2% of scheduled services. Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘Now Avanti are back on track, providing long-term certainty for both the operator and passengers will best ensure that improvements continue.’

Avanti will complete the £117 million refurbishment of the Class 390 Pendolinos, funded by Angel Trains and being carried out by Alstom at its Widnes facility. Of the 56 sets, all 35 11-cars have been treated, with work now in progress on the 21 nine-car sets. It will also introduce its 23 new Hitachi trains – 13 five-car Class 805 bi-modes and 10 seven-car Class 807 EMUs, replacing its Class 221 Super Voyagers.