The Department for Transport (Department for Transport: The UK government department responsible for the English transport network, as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not devolved.) has ordered rail operator West Midlands Trains to invest an extra £20 million in service improvements after “badly breaching its performance targets”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Sunday that passengers who use the company’s West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern services will benefit from the additional funding, which will be used to deliver timetable improvements and recruit new train drivers to tackle staff shortages.
In addition, Shapps has ordered the firm to continue offering compensation for poor service with discounts on season tickets and off-peak fares.
The Department for Transport: The UK government department responsible for the English transport network, as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not devolved. said other train operators across the country should take the step as “a warning that poor performance impacting on passengers and the failure to meet contractual obligations will be met with a firm response”.
Shapps has been hitting back at train operators since he took office in 2019, saying the level of disruption experienced in recent years is “unacceptable”.
The transport secretary recently announced he will be re-nationalising the Northern Rail franchise after current operator Arriva Rail North ‘failed’ to recover following widespread disruption caused by the introduction of a new timetable in May 2018. He also cast doubts on the franchise’s financials, saying it would only be able to continue “for a number of months”.
Shapps has threatened other privately-operated franchises with nationalisation, including South Western Railway, for which he has issued a request for proposals.
Commenting on the West Midlands investment order, Shapps said: “One of my priorities is getting the trains to run on time, and as a commuter myself I understand all too well the frustration caused by endless delays and cancellations.
“West Midlands Trains have failed to fulfil their obligations – to their franchise agreement and, most importantly, to their passengers. The action we’re taking means they must invest in rapidly improving services so that passengers have reliable, punctual trains they can rely on.”
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris added: “Having monitored the poor performance of West Midlands Trains with great concern, we’re taking action to ensure they fulfil their contractual commitments and deliver the service passengers deserve. Every minute of delay adds up, and for far too long passengers have been left stuck on train platforms at the mercy of a fickle live departure board. Having our country’s trains run on time must be the rule, not the exception. This is a warning that operators simply must do better for their passengers.”
The news has been welcomed by West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who said: “Since I issued my ultimatum in December of improve or lose the franchise, [West Midlands Trains] has got better and performance is statistically on the up. But I still have very serious concerns and, alongside the Department for Transport: The UK government department responsible for the English transport network, as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not devolved., will be keeping the firm under strict review. I will not hesitate to ask for the franchise to be stripped if performance slips again.”
West Midlands Trains MD Julian Edwards commented: “Our performance in the second half of last year was simply unacceptable and we apologise to all our customers for this. Passengers can be assured we have developed a robust recovery plan which builds on our recent improved reliability.
“It is right we continue to compensate our customers and we will shortly confirm further discounts covering February half-term and beyond. This is on top of the season ticket and summer discounts we have already implemented.
“We have held detailed discussions with the West Midlands mayor and others to ensure this extra investment – over and above our original £1 billion franchise commitment – benefits all our customers and restores the reliable rail service they deserve. We are fully focused on achieving this as quickly as possible. Every issue cannot be solved overnight and we thank our customers for their patience while we fix their service.”