he Govt is preparing to step in if Avanti fails to deliver “significant” improvements on the West Coast line, according to the rail minister.

Avanti West Coast has been given until April 1 next year to improve its services following train cuts over the summer.

Transport Minister Kevin Foster said the six-month extension provided a “clear opportunity” for Avanti to improve its service to “the standard we and the public expect”.

But Mr Foster also made it clear the government could take over the Avanti network, which includes services from London to the West Midlands, North West England and Scotlandthrough your Operator of Last Resort.

The domestic body currently manages other services, including London North Eastern Railway.

We need trains that are reliable and resilient to modern life. While the company has taken positive steps to increase the number of trains, it needs to do more to ensure the certainty of service to its passengers

Mr Foster outlined the opportunity presented by the short-term extension, before telling the House of Commons: “The Government will then review Avanti’s performance during the completion of the National Rail contract for consideration in relation to the route, together with the preparation of the Operator of Last Resort if it becomes necessary for their intervention at the end of the extension period.”

Mr Foster added: “Avanti has also started to restart services, initially focusing on Manchester and Birmingham routes. From December, Avanti plans to operate 264 daily trains on weekdays – a significant step up from around 180 daily trains currently.

“We need trains that are reliable and resistant to modern life. Although the company has taken positive steps to increase the number of trains, it needs to do more to ensure certainty of service to its passengers.

“We will hold Avanti accountable for what is under his control; however, this plan is not without risk and, importantly, requires the cooperation of unions. The priority remains to support the restoration of services before making a long-term decision.

“When evaluating options for a longer-term contract secretary of state factors including passenger outcomes, value for money and the delivery of major projects and investments – in this case HS2, given the links they have with this future delivery model – will be considered.

“But simply put, things have to improve during this probationary period for this contract to be extended.”

We understand that the current service is not acceptable and we will be looking for significant improvements before April if we wish to extend this contract further

Labor MP Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood), who secured an urgent question on the issue, asked: “When will this Government stop rewarding Avanti for its failures and instead strip it of its franchise and return the West Coast Mainline to public ownership?” »

Mr Foster said in his response: “We understand that the current service is unacceptable and we will be looking for significant improvements before April if we are to extend this contract further.”

The trains were removed from the timetable in August to reduce cancellations at short notice following a sharp decline in the number of drivers who volunteer to work on days off for extra pay.

The Department for Transport said almost 100 extra drivers will enter the official service between April and December this year, meaning new services will start to be added as new drivers become available for work.

SNP spokesman Gavin Newlands said: “Scotland and the North of England have been treated like third-class citizens.”

Mr Foster also told MPs: “I’m afraid the idea that simply putting this on the OLR (operator of last resort) will immediately solve driver shortages and other problems doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny.”