Rail firm told to pump in an extra £20m to fix Hertfordshire train services
Minister Heaton-Harris delivers ultimatum to under-fire London Northwestern
The Government has ordered under-fire rail firm London Northwestern to fork out an extra £20million to fix services through Hertfordshire – or face losing the franchise.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris carpeted LNWR's parent company West Midlands Trains over problems which dogged the commuter route from Tring, Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead into London since the bungled introduction of a new timetable last May.
Mr Heaton-Harris said: "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."
Parent company West Midlands Trains pledged a £1billion investment when it won the London-Birmingham franchise in 2017 and has a contract to run the services until 2026.
But WMT admits the new timetable introduced last May was too complex and it did not have enough staff to run extra services. That led to a string of cancellations and delays can calls for the company to be stripped of the franchise.
Now, WMT is pinning hopes on another major rewrite of the timetable, a major recruitment drive and the promise of new trains to restore faith.
Some of the extra £20m will go towards compensation schemes already announced for season ticket holders and other passengers.
But more will fund major timetable improvements in May and December this year, recruiting more drivers and conductors and investment in day-to-day operations to make services more reliable.
LNWR managing director Julian Edwards, who took charge when former MD Jean Chaudhry-van der Velde quit last month, 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. Every issue cannot be solved overnight and we thank our customers for their patience while we fix their service."