Updated 08.45 10 Feb.
WEST Midlands Trains has been ordered to invest £20 million to improve services and recruit more drivers.
The money will also be used to reduce some fares. Season ticket holders will be offered a 3 per cent discount and off-peak fares will be cut by 10 per cent in July and August.
The franchise, owned by Abellio and the Japanese consortium JREM Train, had been warned by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street in December that unless its performance showed a significant improvement, he would ask the Department for Transport to terminate the contract at the end of January.
The DfT said operators should consider its latest move as a ‘warning’ that poor performance and a ‘failure to meet contractual obligations will be met with a firm response’.
It continued: ‘Since their May 2019 timetable change WMT’s performance has deteriorated to such an extent that they have exceeded breach level on delay minutes and cancellations franchise agreement targets. Under the terms of their contract, WMT are required to agree a “Remedial Plan” to ensure that performance recovers.’
Transport secretary Grant 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.’
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has welcomed the DfT’s action, saying: ‘Performance at the back end of last year was absolutely woeful and it is only right – as I requested – that the firm must pay the price financially. I am also pleased to see this money will be re-invested locally to help restore the reliable service that passengers want and deserve.
‘Since I issued my ultimatum in December of improve or lose the franchise, WMT has got better and performance is statistically on the up. But I still have very serious concerns and, alongside the DfT, will be keeping the firm under strict review. I will not hesitate to ask for the franchise to be stripped if performance slips again.’
The Department for Transport said it will ‘continue to closely monitor’ WMT’s performance and make sure that it meets its contractual obligations.
Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: ‘Following this unacceptable performance West Midlands passengers sent a clear signal of disapproval in our latest survey with satisfaction dropping by 11 percentage points to its lowest score in 10 years.
‘Passengers tell us that their biggest priority is rail services they can rely on to get them to work on time, or home at a reasonable hour.
‘This investment will help take some of the sting out of the frustration many passengers have felt as a result of problems created by the timetable chaos and poor performance by the rail industry.
‘It’s now important that West Midlands Trains actively encourages passengers to claim compensation and makes it quick and easy to do so.’
West Midlands Trains managing director Julian Edwards only recently took over the franchise. He said: ‘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.’