WEST MIDLANDS Mayor Andy Street has held off on his threat to ask the Department for Transport to strip Abellio of the West Midlands Trains franchise. The news came after WMT confirmed further compensation arrangements for passengers after poor performance last year following the introduction of a new timetable in May 2019. The compensation forms part of an extra £20 million to be spent by WMT after it breached performance targets.
On 23 December Mr Street tweeted that he had ‘lost all faith’ in WMT’s ability to run the network and set an ultimatum of improvement by the end of January or he would call for the franchise to be removed.
Changes to the timetable and other steps taken by the operator delivered a marked improvement in performance through January. As compensation for the poor performance, WMT has cut season ticket prices by 3% and will offer a 10% discount on walk-up fares for off-peak journeys during July and August. Mr Street insisted he wanted to see evidence that January’s improvements were not just a one-off, and he has also asked the DfT to impose a ‘serious fine’ over delays and cancellations last year.
Announcing the compensation commitment, WMT’s new Managing Director Julian Edwards commented: ‘Our performance during the second half of last year was simply unacceptable. I’ve put in place a clear plan of improvements which is already having an impact. The number of trains arriving on time has increased by 29% since Christmas with cancellations down by 39%.’ As well as simplifying its timetable with key alterations in May, WMT is recruiting 86 more drivers and senior conductors and aiming to reduce instances of skip-stopping, which it says will only be used as a last resort.
Talking to Modern Railways, Mr Street acknowledged that he understood the complex and lengthy process involved in changing timetables, and that some changes would take time. Noting performance has improved, he said: ‘A fair minded person, I think, would say “yes, an improvement has come”. It would have been totally unreasonable to ask to take the franchise away against that improvement and I genuinely want them to succeed.’