OPPOSITION politicians have criticised the government for awarding a new contract to rail operator, Avanti West Coast.

Avanti had been under significant pressure to improve after the government twice extended their contract by just six months, but the government has now awarded the company a core term of three years and a maximum possible term of nine years on the West Coast Mainline after seeing ‘significant improvements’ from the operator.

“I am staggered by this decision,” said Labour candidate for Carlisle, Julie Minns.

“How can the Government possibly justify awarding one of the worst performing train operators another contract?

“By rewarding failure, the Government reveal just how out of touch and out of ideas they are.

“Labour is committed to bringing our railways into public ownership as contracts expire. It’s time we had a railway - and Government - that worked for the people and not for the shareholders of private rail companies.”

Cancellations have been below three per cent since March 2023 - down from 13 per cent in January 2023 - and 90 per of trains now arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time, improved from 75 per cent in December 2022 according to the government.

Brian Wernham, the Lib Dem candidate for Carlisle, said: “Avanti has improved somewhat, but is still failing to deliver services. This is a desperate move from a government intent on propping up a failed privatisation model.

“The service is a complete mess. Avanti West Coast and TransPennine are both run by FirstGroup. In May, after much prevarication, the Government cancelled TransPennine’s contract.

“Now the Government must surely look at the history of woeful service being delivered by Avanti on the West Coast Main Line.”

The move has been heavily criticised by the RMT union who said it was a ‘travesty’ that the contract had been extended.

Gavin Hawkton, Carlisle’s Green Party candidate said: “Avanti has an established track record as one of the worst-performing rail companies, and this announcement is a disappointment for passengers who have endured widespread train cancellations, especially amidst record-high rail prices.

"By awarding this contract the government is essentially rewarding failure and prioritising a flawed ideology of privatisation over the well-being of commuters and taxpayers.

“It has become clear that profit-driven rail privateers should have no place in our rail network. It's high time we acknowledge that the most viable solution is to return the entire rail network to public ownership.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that Avanti were ‘back on track’.

“The routes Avanti West Coast operate provide vital connections, and passengers must feel confident that they can rely on the services to get them where they need to be at the right time,” said Mr Harper.

“Over the past year, short-term contracts were necessary to rebuild the timetable and reduce cancellations.

“Now Avanti are back on track, providing long-term certainty for both the operator and passengers will best ensure that improvements continue.”