Welcome to West Coast Matters
We want to hear from you
Delivering growth through partnership
Welcome to our first edition of our West Coast Partnership stakeholder newsletter.
Through this quarterly publication we’ll be keeping you up to date on progress with exciting plans for new trains, more seats and more services for Avanti West Coast customers, and how our West Coast Partnership Development business will be working with stakeholders to deliver the Government’s unprecedented investment in high speed services.
None of this can be delivered without you, and as Partnership and Strategy Director I’ll be building the structures for collaboration that will give stakeholders across Britain a clear voice in the development and delivery of new services, new products and high speed operations.
Establishing such a comprehensive collaboration framework is a major undertaking and is certainly a first for any train company in the UK. It will take several more months to get the framework up and running fully, but it includes plans for new local and national consultative forums, Parliamentary surgeries, surveys, and more frequent external briefings on our progress.
We’re also building a network of seven new Regional Growth Managers for England, Scotland and Wales. Our aim is to establish this team fully over the next few months, and give every stakeholder on our network a senior, single point of contact for any issues they wish to raise, whether related to Avanti West Coast services or the detailed planning of HS2 services. In the meantime you can reach us to discuss anything on firstname.lastname@example.org
Inevitably the impact of COVID-19 is having an impact across our company, and Avanti West Coast’s Managing Director, Phil Whittingham, sets out in this newsletter the measures we’re taking to keep our customers and our people safe. Looking to the future, the Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development discusses why the plans for high speed services will be more crucial than ever as the Government addresses the challenge of economic recovery.
I hope you find these and the other items interesting, and please do give us your feedback via the email address above so we can shape future editions of the newsletter with your help.
A message from our Chief Executive, Steve Montgomery
On 9 December last year, FirstGroup and Trenitalia embarked on a journey that will play a frontline role in levelling up the UK economy by helping to deliver one of the largest investment programmes the rail industry has ever seen.
Our investment plans for Avanti West Coast, and the work of our West Coast Partnership Development business on an exciting future of High Speed services, makes the West Coast Partnership a unique undertaking. It is also an undertaking we intend to deliver in close collaboration with our customers and stakeholders across the whole network. Our mission is to deliver a progressive railway service that generates nationwide prosperity and pride, in line with FirstGroup’s overall vision of providing easy and convenient mobility, improving quality of life by connecting people and communities.
As we all grapple with the impact of coronavirus, whilst our vision remains unaltered and as exciting as it was six months ago, our immediate sights have naturally shifted towards the safety of our customers and our people during these challenging times.
Therefore, the focus of our first newsletter is the steps we are taking to make travel as safe as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. For our passengers travelling with us on our Avanti services during these difficult times we would like to assure you that our trains are being cleaned using the latest innovation and cleaning materials. Also, following the recent Government announcement, we have issued all our staff with face masks to ensure their and our passengers’ safety whilst on board our trains. We continue to maintain safe social distancing, wherever possible, by encouraging our customers to travel during quieter periods. We are also strongly recommending that passengers book a reservation on their train when they purchase a ticket. This has successfully ensured that we provide a safe environment for our passengers and our people when travelling with Avanti.
Our station teams are also working hard to reconfigure passenger flows at stations to maintain safe distances between passengers and staff. Passengers are also being urged to take all necessary hygiene precautions, including frequent hand washing and wearing face coverings if they can. Full details of the Government’s updated guidance for passengers using public transport can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers#public-transport
Your support and cooperation thus far have been incredible, for which we thank you. As we slowly emerge from lockdown, we look forward to establishing with you the new relationships that will help to deliver major plans for new trains, more services, and a High Speed future on the West Coast.
Rebuilding better: why HS2 is more vital than ever
The need to transform our transport system and economy has not gone away
Over the coming weeks and months, the urgent task facing those of us working in the railway is rebuilding passenger confidence, ensuring our customers feel safe with the measures we have taken to support lockdown and, as social distancing measures eventually loosen, attracting people back to rail and encouraging them to make sustainable journey choices. But beyond that, we still need to think about the longer-term. The need to fundamentally reshape and transform our transport system and economy has not gone away. We not only have to rebuild but, to coin a phrase, “build back better” as we slowly emerge from this crisis.
HS2 remains central to that transformation. The factors driving the project – jobs and economic growth, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a transformational investment in our rail network, and increasing focus on greener journey choices – remain valid. We will work with our partners to help deliver HS2’s role in building an inclusive, green, sustainable and competitive economy where opportunity is spread across our regions and devolved nations.
Delivering this requires more than building all the tracks, bridges, cuttings and culverts that HS2 requires, vital though this will be. We need also to ensure the service aspects of HS2 are properly developed: the fares structure, service frequency, ticketing and wider timetable for all services using the West Coast Main Line will need to be written from scratch or fundamentally rethought from a customer perspective if we are to deliver what people truly want. We also need to plan carefully for the transition to High Speed services, ensuring this is delivered smoothly for customers.
Since December last year, West Coast Partnership Development has been working closely with HS2 Ltd, Network Rail, the Department for Transport and other industry partners to start the design and development of future High Speed services for our customers. Our parent companies, FirstGroup and Trenitalia, have a vast wealth of experience in operating high-speed intercity services and are now helping to support a partnership that makes the best use of private and public sector expertise.
Over the months and years ahead you will hear from us more often as we build the collaboration framework to give stakeholders a voice in decisions about the future of services on the West Coast. In particular, our plans for a new network of dedicated Regional Growth Managers will give every stakeholder a dedicated point of contact through which they can pose questions or raise any issues of concern as we develop the plans to unleash the full social and economic benefits of this historic investment in our national rail network.
We look forward to working with you.
Keeping Avanti West Coast Services Safe
Face coverings and new surface sanitiser in latest COVID19 response
Our Pendolinos: re-wrapped, refurbished, re-lovely
Let me start by again thanking all our customers for their patience during these times. I must also pay tribute to our wonderful people for their work under such difficult conditions. Their commitment and response to the way circumstances have been constantly evolving during the pandemic has been fantastic to see, and as ambassadors for Avanti they have been outstanding and a great source of pride to us all. Thank you everyone.
As we gradually increase services in line with the Government’s easing of lockdown measures, we are encouraging customers to travel during quieter periods if they can. Currently, our busiest times are between 9.30am and 1pm, and 4pm and 6pm. To help you understand when services are becoming too busy, we’ll highlight popular trains when you book on our website https://www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk/. Please take this into account and choose a quieter service where possible. To help manage social distancing onboard we’ve reduced the seating capacity on our trains, so we also recommend you book your tickets in advance, making sure to reserve a space on your preferred service. Otherwise, we can’t guarantee you’ll be able to board.
In addition, we are stepping up efforts to ensure customers know face coverings on public transport in England became mandatory on 15th June. We strongly recommend the use of face coverings across all other parts of our route. To reinforce this message, we have wrapped the nose of two Pendolinos with a yellow face covering, along with a message on the side saying: ‘Safe Travels. Wear a face covering.’ We understand, of course, that some people may not be able to wear a face covering, for example children under 11, people with breathing difficulties and people whose disabilities make it difficult for them to wear a face covering. We are also briefing our people that they can temporarily remove their face covering in order to communicate more effectively with customers who have a hearing impairment.
To further protect customers and our people we are currently trialling a surface sanitiser onboard our trains as part of an enhanced cleaning regime. The powerful disinfectant, known as Zoono Z-71, is sprayed inside carriages and is designed to provide long lasting anti-viral protection, with reapplication only needed every 28 days.
Throughout all this, the whole team has maintained focus on the future and the delivery of the exciting new plans for Avanti West Coast customers. Many of our projects have been progressing well, but naturally some will meet with slight delays caused by the impact of Covid-19, for example, the Pendolino refurbishment project. Details of this are set out further down this newsletter. Be assured, however, that our focus remains firmly on moving the business forward and ensuring that Avanti West Coast delivers the market leading services, products and innovations that our customers quite rightly expect.
£117m refurb delivers better-than-new interiors for iconic fleet
Our first Employee Director is Lizzie Power!
Britain's most iconic train fleet is undergoing a £117m refurbishment to deliver better-than-new interiors for Avanti West Coast's tilting Pendolinos. The work at Alstom’s Transport and Technology Centre in Widnes will create 100 skilled jobs for delivery of the programme.
We're also wrapping our full fleet in the stylish new AWC colours. Despite a short delay caused by COVID19 as the programme was redesigned to comply with social distancing guidelines, work to cover the exteriors is now underway. Check out this video from our graphics partner who will be undertaking the work and you’ll see the work that goes into wrapping a Pendolino. We've even wrapped one train in a face covering to help reinforce the message about wearing face coverings on public transport.
Significant benefits of the Pendolino upgrade include.
- Brand new standard class seats
- New café bar area
- Upgraded Wi-Fi system
- New Passenger Information Screens
- New seat reservation system allowing last minute reservations to be made en route
Coronavirus has naturally caused significant disruption for manufacturers across the UK and worldwide supply chains and, unfortunately, this is likely to mean a delay to the original timetable for the Pendolino fleet refurbishment. We are working hard alongside Alstom to deliver the project as quickly and safely as we can, and will keep you updated on any revisions to the programme of work.
Move brings employee voice to boardroom
Working with communities
Euston Train Manager Lizzie Power has just been elected as the first Avanti West Coast Employee Director. In her new role, which she will hold for three years, Lizzie will be engaging with and representing colleagues across the whole business to bring an employee voice direct to the boardroom. But the role doesn’t stop there, Lizzie will also act as an ambassador and represent Avanti West Coast at events.
Lizzie was elected following a ballot of all colleagues. Throughout the process she demonstrated industry knowledge, strong communication skills and confidence to interact with a wide range of people. What also shone through was Lizzie’s energy and passion to make a difference. Lizzie’s voice on the Board will be crucial for our people over the coming years as Avanti rolls out plans for more trains, more seats and more services for all our customers.
Fresh approach for 21 Community Rail Partnerships
It's OK not to be OK
As part of our commitment to significantly enhance engagement and support for the Community Rail sector, Avanti will be working with all 21 of the Community Rail Partnerships on the West Coast Network.
As the Community Manager for Avanti West Coast, Jo Buckley will work with our team of seven Regional Growth Managers to administer brand new Core Funding for every CRP on the route, and open up opportunities for them to bid for money from our new Station Community Fund and our Community Rail Project for local projects.
Many of the CRPs have already established local relationships with their Station Manager and Community Champion, but for those that haven’t and would like to, please do get in touch with JoJo on Joanna.Buckley@avantiwestcoast.co.uk and she will happily arrange introductions.
Outside of work JoJo is engaged to Andrew and mum to their son Alf. She lives in a rural village where there is a real sense of community, and following a call to action she signed up to be a Community Volunteer in response to COVID-19 - a role which she is very proud to do.
JoJo and the team look forward to building on the success of our inaugural CRP Conference, held via Zoom on 2 June. Despite circumstances, 16 of the 21 CRPs managed to participate and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Whilst the current situation has applied a significant brake to many community activities, some CRPs have continued to develop and offer creative and educational programmes. Community Rail Lancashire, for example, shared details of their cutting edge ‘Engagement During Lockdown’ initiative, designed to engage and educate those stuck at home - especially children - by using online resources and social media to develop education and information programmes.
How we're looking after colleagues' mental health
COVID-19 has taken an unprecedented toll on our nation's mental as well as physical health. For our colleagues working on the frontline to deliver vital services through the pandemic it can be particularly tough and it is understandable for them to be experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety.
During this time we are making sure that all our people are supported and kept fully aware of the services available to them through the railway family. For example the Railway Mission, who have set up a dedicated email and number for any railway worker feeling anxious, lonely or depressed, and the Railway Benefit Fund which supports railway people all over the UK and is now providing extra resource to ensure that funds and assistance can reach those that need it most.
For our part, Avanti’s Learning and Development team has created a staff programme titled “Looking After Yourself”, which demonstrates how colleagues can take care of their mental wellbeing at this time. We’ve also built a team of Mental Health Champions within the business who have all completed an accredited Mental Health First Aid course and internal training. Our Champions are now offering support and guidance to all our people, regardless of role and location.
Recently we asked some of our colleagues to express why mental health is so important, and what are their personal coping mechanisms. Click on the link to hear our amazing people speak with real honesty and openness about why it's normal to feel anxious or depressed right now, and why it’s OK to ask for help.
See the video we've shared with our people here: It's OK not to be OK
We'll meet again
Emotional rendition of wartime classic from Crewe station team
At the height of lockdown, the team at Crewe delivered an emotional rendition of wartime classic "We'll meet again" to an empty station in a video that went on to gain more than 17,000 views on Twitter. This was recorded before Vera Lynn, with whom the song will forever be associated, passed away this week. You can view the video here: https://twitter.com/avantiwestcoast/status/1250359090007728128?lang=en We couldn't leave you with a more uplifting farewell.