West Midlands Trains issued ultimatum by metro mayor

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

A “woeful” train company has been handed an ultimatum by a metro mayor.

Andy Street pledged to demand that West Midlands Trains (WMT) is stripped of its franchise unless services improve by the end of next month.

The West Midlands mayor declared he is “determined to take control and bring this misery to an end”.

WMT runs London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Railway services, which have deteriorated since May as timetable changes to introduce more trains have worsened the impact of disruption.

(PA Graphics)

Another timetable change earlier this month failed to improve performance in the short term.

Office of Rail and Road figures show 44.8% of WMT services arrived at stations within one minute of the timetable between October 13 and November 9, compared with the average across Britain of 59.3%.

WMT is a joint venture between Abellio – the international arm of the state-owned Dutch national rail operator – and Japanese partners.

Mr Street said: “The service currently being provided by WMT is quite simply woeful.

“The problems on our region’s railways have been dragging on for months and – despite many promises from WMT – show no sign of improving.”

He added: “I have already notified the DfT (Department for Transport) that if WMT do not restore a reliable service by midnight on January 31 2020 then I will be asking them to strip Abellio of the West Midlands franchise.”

Mr Street said WMT has rejected his suggestions for how services could be improved, which included bringing forward timetable changes scheduled for May 2020 and ending the skipping of stations during disruption.

He also called for January’s fare rise to be postponed until punctuality improves.

The Tory mayor said the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto gave a “clear commitment” to devolve power over local rail to metro mayors, adding: “I expect this to be honoured.”

A DfT spokesman said: “The Transport Secretary has been clear that his number one priority is for the country’s trains to run on time. While we closely monitor performance on all franchises, it is disappointing to see the poor performance on West Midlands Trains since they implemented their new timetable in May 2019.

“Both the department and West Midlands Rail Executive are closely monitoring the steps WMT are taking to address the performance problems and expect to see significant improvements.

“We have also been clear that we want to drive growth across the country by giving local leaders a greater say in the running of the railway. We will soon publish a White Paper on the recommendations of the Williams Review, ensuring we deliver the reforms that will give passengers a punctual, modern and reliable railway.”

WMT managing director Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde said: “We recognise that the May timetable has not worked and apologise to all our passengers who have been affected.”

He explained that extra carriages and timetable changes were introduced last week to improve performance but the network was hit by incidents outside the firm’s control, such as track and signalling failures, trespass and anti-social behaviour.

Mr Chaudhry-van der Velde revealed that WMT recently presented an improvement plan to the West Midlands Rail Executive and the DfT.

He added that bringing forward the May 2020 timetable was discussed with Network Rail but deemed not possible due to “the impact on the wider rail industry”.

Details of an additional compensation scheme for passengers are expected to be announced early next year.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and mayor of Liverpool city region Steve Rotheram called for “clarity” on Sunday after a newspaper was told Northern would be stripped of its franchise.

The Sunday Times was briefed that the firm will be replaced by an “operator of last resort”, bringing services under direct Government control.