Welcome back onboard
A message from Richard Scott, our Partnership and Strategy Director
Trainee driver Chloe McKinlay urges women to join industry
It’s been more than a year since our lives were turned upside down by the Covid pandemic. Now, as the vaccine rollout continues apace and normal activity begins to return across society, we are working with the Government to ensure the railway once again plays its full role in connecting the country.
From 16 May, the Avanti West Coast timetable will move to six trains per hour, up from 4tph at present (more detail available on our website here). This means that all our destinations will be served once again, though there will be two trains per hour between London-Birmingham and London-Manchester, as opposed to 3tph prior to the pandemic. This timetable will remain in place until September, and we will continue to monitor and flex if required, as guided by Government guidance and passenger demand.
We are currently planning to accommodate additional services during the Euro 2021 tournament. Matches are to be played at both Hampden Park and Wembley Stadium and we expect to see an increase in demand during these times. Full details of our plans will be available to view via our website once confirmed.
I’d like to pay tribute to the hard work that our people have undertaken during this challenging time to provide essential services, and for the work they continue to do to ensure our customers have a safe and pleasant journey. Some of their stories are now being celebrated in a new exhibition at the National Railway Museum. I know they’re looking forward to welcoming you back onboard and to help you reconnect with friends, colleagues and loved ones – wherever and whenever you are travelling.
While day-to-day rail services have been heavily impacted over the last year, our work to invest and help build the railway of tomorrow has continued. We have introduced a number of digital innovations including a new smartcard, better real-time information and a new Facebook page for disabled customers which you can read about below, along with updates on how we’re introducing brand new trains whilst overhauling our Pendolino fleet – to improve passengers’ journeys.
Work also continues designing HS2 services to ensure they meet the needs of the next generation of passengers. Caroline Donaldson, Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development, explains below how an innovative approach is needed to get the best out of HS2 services.
Although we couldn’t meet in person, we were really pleased to share time with almost 200 attendees at our first ever stakeholder conference, and hear your ideas on how the railway should be improved. You can read more about that discussion below and, as ever, please do get in touch with our team of dedicated Regional Growth Managers if you want to discuss this or any other aspects of our business.
An Avanti West Coast trainee driver is hoping her positive experience in the railway industry will encourage other women to pursue a similar career path
Role of AWC employees celebrated in Railway Heroes exhibition
An Avanti West Coast trainee driver is hoping her positive experience in the railway industry will encourage other women to pursue a similar career path.
Chloe McKinlay, 25, joined the Avanti West Coast Driver Training scheme in August 2020, and when qualified will join her dad Kevin to become the first father/daughter driving duo for the West Coast Main Line operator.
Historically, being a train driver has been seen as a male dominated profession, but it’s set to change at Avanti West Coast with a third of the new recruits on Chloe’s course being female.
Chloe, from Liverpool, is hoping her involvement in the scheme and events like International Women’s Day will inspire others to challenge long-held stereotypes around gender and career choice.
“Even though my dad is a driver, growing up, never once did I think driving was an option for me. Only men drive trains I thought,” explained Chloe. “As a Degree Apprentice, I spent some time working with the Driver Team and I thought why not?
“The company have been incredibly supportive, and that’s given me the confidence to ‘go for it’. And on International Women’s Day that’s the message I’d like to pass onto other women. Don’t be afraid to challenge gender stereotypes. If I can do it, why not you? Train driving is a wonderful career, one that carries a lot of responsibility and job satisfaction.”
Richard Morrow, Head of Drivers at Avanti West Coast said: “We, like many other train operators face a potential skills shortage with many of our drivers expected to retire in the coming few years. The industry needs to identify and develop the train drivers of the future, and we’re hoping that Chloe’s story will encourage more women to seriously consider it as a career to pursue.”
Chloe’s Dad Kevin, who has over 20 years driving experience behind him, was full of praise for his daughter. “We’re so proud of her, not only for getting this far, but also how she’s wanting to use her story to encourage other women who might have previously been put off from applying to be a train driver.”
You can read Chloe’s full story here.
Avanti West Coast employees are featuring in an exhibition organised by the National Railway Museum that celebrates the contribution of rail workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Avanti West Coast employees are featuring in an exhibition organised by the National Railway Museum that celebrates the contribution of rail workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The online exhibition, titled Railway Heroes, recognises the selfless achievements of people from across the rail industry over the last 12 months.
Featured in the 16 case studies are four from Avanti West Coast, including Janet Bamber and Hussain Master, both Train Managers based at Preston.
Fellow Train Manager, CJ Morgan, and Seema Jadva, who works in human resources, are also profiled after receiving special dispensation by the train operator to volunteer their working hours to support the Metropolitan Police as Specials on the streets of London.
Janet dedicated her time to a community group volunteering to make scrubs for the NHS. Using experience from her previous career as a seamstress, Janet spent seven hours a day sewing thousands of scrubs, dentist gowns and accessories for NHS workers in Lancashire.
Hussain increased his volunteering hours at a local foodbank in Preston, helping to deliver hundreds of hot meals to NHS workers and the wider community.
Seema and CJ were both able to commit extra hours and take on additional shifts while volunteering as Specials for the Metropolitan police - providing support to frontline colleagues, and safety, visibility, and reassurance in its response to the COVID-19 Crisis.
Each of their stories will feature alongside a portrait photograph from renowned press photographer, Charlotte Graham.
Once lockdown restrictions are lifted, a physical exhibition will open simultaneously at the National Railway Museum in York, and Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham.
Phil Whittingham, Managing Director at Avanti West Coast said: “It’s an honour for Avanti West Coast to see our people recognised in this exhibition alongside the rest of the rail industry.
“Whether it’s keeping people connected, dedicating time to help others or bolstering the efforts of the emergency services, the railway and its workers have played a vital role throughout the pandemic.
“I am so proud of their efforts to support the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis and make a difference in the local communities we serve.”
Judith McNicol, Director of the National Railway Museum, said: “This exhibition is an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the thousands of railway key workers who have kept the country going over the last year. From delivering essential supplies and transporting NHS workers, to selfless volunteering, the stories featured in the exhibition are an inspiration and fully deserving of wider recognition.”
The Railway Heroes exhibition can be viewed here.
Partnership critical to rail’s success, WCP conference hears
The West Coast Partnership acts as a “model” for the rail industry’s collaboration with stakeholders, said the Managing Director of First Rail
The West Coast Partnership acts as a “model” for the rail industry’s collaboration with stakeholders, said the Managing Director of First Rail.
Speaking at WCP’s first stakeholder conference, Steve Montgomery highlighted the value of forming productive relationships with partners across the route to help drive improvements to the railway and local economies.
His views were echoed at the online event by Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, who stressed the role the railways played in supporting opportunity as well as moving people from A to B.
Addressing almost 200 stakeholders from across the country, Steve Montgomery said: “We want WCP, like all our train companies, to continue to be a model of partnership in practice and believe collaboration with our stakeholders is critical to achieve this aspiration.”
His comments came during an event that brought rail industry leaders and politicians together to discuss the future aspirations of the industry.
The virtual event held on 24 March, featured online presentations, panel debates as well as question and answer sessions around the upcoming plans for the West Coast Main Line and how rail will recover in the wake of COVID-19.
The conference was organised by WCP, which operates Avanti West Coast and West Coast Partnership Development (WCPD) - the ‘shadow operator’ for HS2 which works with HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to develop and operate high speed rail services.
Opening the conference, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “I want our railways not just to get people from A to B, but to help transform people’s lives spreading opportunity and increasing aspiration.”
He added: “We have a real opportunity now to build a lasting positive change for our passengers and our communities and I hope this event gets us closer to that goal.”
Other speakers joining those from WCP included Virginia Crosbie MP, Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, Chairman of HS2, Allan Cook and Tim Shoveller, Managing Director North West and Central Region of Network Rail.
Managing Director of Avanti West Coast, Phil Whittingham, said: “It is more important than ever in these difficult times that we work together for the good of the industry. We wanted to give our stakeholders a unique opportunity to hear about our exciting plans for the year ahead, to ask questions and raise issues.”
These plans include a £100m plus investment to refurbish the Pendolino fleet and greater use of digital technology to improve the customer experience. Avanti West Coast’s Voyager diesel trains are also due to be replaced by 23 brand new Hitachi trains from the end of 2022.
Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development, Caroline Donaldson, said: “This was a great opportunity to speak to our valued stakeholders across the region and discuss the role WCPD will play in the coming years. It’s vitally important to map out what’s to come to help shape the future of high-speed rail services in this country.”
Steve Montgomery, Managing Director, First Rail, said: “This event reinforced the importance of working together in partnership to deliver the rail services that our customers and communities want, maximising investment as well as driving regional growth.
“As we recover as an industry, we want WCP, like all our train companies, to continue to be a model of partnership in practice and believe collaboration with our stakeholders is critical to achieve this aspiration.”
Watch the conference here.
Innovation needed to deliver future passenger services
An innovative approach is needed to deliver the future high-speed railway for the benefit of passengers, said the Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development
An innovative approach is needed to deliver the future high-speed railway for the benefit of passengers, said the Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development.
Addressing an audience of experts at the Rail Industry Association’s Innovation Conference, Caroline Donaldson laid out some key challenges for the industry to consider. These include better customer information, improving onboard services and enabling independent and integrated travel for disabled customers.
Here is an excerpt from Caroline’s speech:
HS2 will be a dynamic railway with many trains per hour, this means passengers need to be confident of finding the right time and place to board their train. We know that clear communication and wayfinding, including finding facilities such as toilets or catering, will be key to a calm and enjoyable experience.
Another challenge is how we reimagine the high speed travel experience. Journey times between our big cities will shrink - London to Birmingham will be just 40 minutes. We need to rethink the on-board experience, including how personal contact with passengers happens, or how we provide food and drink that’s attractive. We expect technology innovation to not only help deliver these services, but to help predict changing customer needs as well.
West Coast Partnership is committed to an inclusive railway that enables independent and integrated travel for all – our ambition is to raise the bar for accessibility. Experience from Trenitalia, running high speed services in Italy, is that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to get to our stations using greener travel options. Challenges we are exploring include multi-modal collaboration, and how technology can enable an integrated end to end journey for everyone.
We don’t have all the answers yet, and we’re not trying to work it out alone. We’re on a journey and we want to innovate, to test and learn, to grow, and stay ahead of the curve. Because getting it right for passengers means we need to work in partnership, get broad and expert insight to define the best solutions. We need and want your help to get this right. So, it’s a call to arms. If there are any areas where you think you can help, get in touch (email@example.com).
Dedicated Facebook page helps disabled passengers
Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for disabled customers
Work starts on Avanti West Coast’s new train fleet and depot investment
Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for disabled customers.
The forum enables passengers on the West Coast Main Line to connect with each other as well as a social media team assigned to provide specialist support.
The long-distance operator has launched a group called ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ on Facebook, to build an interactive online community that aims to both help disabled customers directly and give them an opportunity to help others with the benefits of their experience.
The private and visible group is designed to provide a support network by connecting disabled customers who are planning or making a journey with Avanti West Coast’s specialist social media team, as well as people who have a shared understanding of disability and rail travel. The aim is to create a community where valuable insights as well as information are shared to enable independent travel for all.
Managed by Avanti West Coast’s social media team, the group can be easily found by searching Facebook – members and content can only be seen by those who have been permitted access.
Members can use the group to contact Avanti West Coast directly – making it easier to receive direct support from the social media team, who will offer reassurance and help those who may need extra assistance when travelling.
This new approach of an exclusive social media platform for disabled customers is a first for the rail industry and is the idea of Emma Martell, Avanti West Coast’s Head of Social Content.
Emma was inspired to create the group through her own personal experience. Following her diagnosis with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – a condition that makes connective tissue weaker - she found support by joining Facebook groups, which helped her to find ways to cope with some of the issues more practically.
From this experience, she worked with Avanti West Coast’s external Accessibility Panel to change communication with disabled customers with the aim of building a community engaging in regular dialogue.
“We believe creating a sense of community with our customers through a private forum on social media can add real value for those who may need extra assistance. We want to both help them directly and enable them to help others, so everyone feels supported when planning or making a journey,” said Emma.
“By connecting people who have a shared understanding we want to build a support network, where tips and experiences for journeys on our route can be exchanged. We hope this platform will help to improve the overall journey experience for disabled customers and encourage more people to travel by train.”
As part of the platform’s launch, Avanti West Coast’s social media team have received training on the social model of disability – a way of viewing the world developed by disabled people – to help them recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people.
They are receiving further specialist training focused on how they communicate with disabled people from Furner Communications (an external agency specialising in the disability sector) that will equip them with the knowledge and skills to assist disabled people in the best possible way.
UK Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Ensuring our network is accessible for all passengers is crucial, and it’s positive to see Avanti West Coast creating a dedicated social media community to help those who require extra assistance to travel safely and with confidence.”
Daniel Doherty, Community Manager at Facebook, said: “Over 35 million people in the UK use Facebook Groups every month as a powerful way to connect, share their interests, learn new things and support their communities. It’s great to see Avanti West Coast using this new Facebook Group to connect and offer support to their disabled customers as the world begins to open up, helping them to feel confident when travelling again.”
Tony Jennings, Co-Chair of Avanti West Coast’s external Accessibility Panel, said: “Accessible social media plays an important part in welcoming and reassuring disabled people back onto the railways and helps with journey planning, giving us the confidence to travel. I’m really looking forward to being involved with the group.”
Anyone on Facebook can find the group at this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/accessiblewestcoast and request to join it. Their request will then be approved by the Avanti West Coast social media team.
Work has commenced on building the new fleet of electric and bi-mode trains that will replace Avanti West Coast’s diesel-powered Voyagers next year
New smartcard and Realtime Trains info for AWC customers
Work has commenced on building the new fleet of electric and bi-mode trains that will replace Avanti West Coast’s diesel-powered Voyagers next year.
The next generation trains are being assembled by Hitachi at its Newton Aycliffe factory in County Durham and will serve customers along the West Coast Main Line including London, the Midlands, North Wales, Liverpool and Lancashire.
Assembly of the trains coincides with investment by AWC at its depots and the creation of a driver depot at Holyhead in North Wales, which will generate 20 jobs.
AWC is investing more than £5m in depot upgrades at Liverpool, Oxley and Wembley to support ongoing maintenance of the new Hitachi trains, with a further £300,000 invested in the Holyhead driver depot in Holyhead.
Work is also ongoing to refurbish AWC’s 56 electric Pendolino trains as part of a £642m, seven-year deal signed with Alstom last year.
The Hitachi fleet will comprise of 10 Class 807, seven-carriage electric trains and 13 Class 805, five-carriage bi-mode trains, the latter due to replace the current diesel Voyager trains and deliver a 61% reduction in carbon emissions.
The work has helped Hitachi invest £8.5m in welding and painting facilities at its factory and secured around 40 high-skilled roles, including newly graduated welders and painters who will be completing the high-tech aluminium carriage shells.
Phil Whittingham, Managing Director at Avanti West Coast said: “We’re proud to be partnering with Hitachi Rail, and its UK supply chain, to build a fleet of new trains that will transform the travelling experience for our customers on the West Coast Main Line. The investment is a key part of our exciting plans to raise the bar for the UK rail industry and will deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions.”
Jim Brewin, Head of UK & Ireland, Hitachi Rail, said: “The £110 million we have now invested at Newton Aycliffe is not only a sign of our continued commitment to the North East of England but also British manufacturing and its supply chain.
“At the heart of our commitment is the continued development of a highly skilled and dynamic workforce and 70 apprenticeships will drive the rail industry forward at home and abroad for many years to come.”
Avanti West Coast customers are set to benefit from a new convenient way to travel after the long-distance operator launched its own smartcard scheme
Nearly 40 tonnes of surplus food given to help people in need during lockdown
Avanti West Coast customers are set to benefit from a new convenient way to travel after the long-distance operator launched its own smartcard scheme.
The alternative to paper ticketing comes as AWC has partnered with Realtime Trains to provide more live information directly to customers, including the location of onboard facilities such as toilets, wheelchair spaces, bike storage and the shop.
Alongside digital tickets, which now accounts for 65% of Avanti West Coast customer journeys, the introduction of the smartcard will give rail users another option for moving away from traditional paper tickets, ensuring less waste.
Following a successful trial, customers are now able to store tickets securely on one card, preventing issues around paper tickets being mixed up or damaged.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “The introduction of the smartcard scheme will allow passengers to choose a modern alternative to the paper ticket, providing simpler journeys and reducing time spent in stations.
“As we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, this Government is committed to smarter ticketing. Avanti West Coast’s scheme will allow for more convenient travel and will improve the passenger experience once it is safe to return to the railways.”
The information on Realtime Train’s ‘Know Your Train’ feature will include the type of rolling stock allocated to each service, with handy information about number of carriages.
In addition, “Know Your Train” will allow enthusiasts to easily find out if their favourite Pendolino or Voyager is in service, including the popular Pride Train (set number 390119).
Before signing up with Realtime Trains, users could only track Avanti West Coast trains’ progress, including calling points, platforms and timings. Now, by pairing up live data feeds from Network Rail with an Avanti West Coast rolling stock database, the site can provide more detailed information.
Nearly 40 tonnes of surplus food has been donated to people in need in the last year after Avanti West Coast partnered with charities and organisations along its route
Nearly 40 tonnes of surplus food has been donated to people in need in the last year after Avanti West Coast partnered with charities and organisations along its route.
The inter-city operator has distributed nearly £93,000 of surplus food that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Although the minimum amount of food is ordered for customers’ needs, the changing travel patterns and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic left Avanti West Coast with extra as its services were only to be used for essential journeys. The train operator utilised its contacts along the route to give away the food responsibly and make a difference in the communities it serves.
Working with logistics leader DHL Supply Chain, which is responsible for loading refreshments onboard its trains, the long-distance operator joined up with charities, food banks and organisations local to its depots in London, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Glasgow to distribute the surplus food.
Phil Whittingham, Managing Director at Avanti West Coast, said: “We work with producers across the UK who take pride in supplying our customers with good, quality food, so we don’t want it to go to waste while our services are for those making essential journeys, which is why we’re sharing our surplus food to help others.
“We’re proud to be making a difference in the communities we serve by donating items of food and drink to charities, food banks and organisations, including OLIO, to support their work to help those who don’t have enough, which is becoming increasingly important as we face the impact of COVID-19.”
Euston moggy goes viral after ignoring rail safety advice
A curious cat who curled up on the roof of an Avanti West Coast train at Euston has won nationwide notoriety
A curious cat who curled up on the roof of an Avanti West Coast train at Euston has won nationwide notoriety.
Newspapers and broadcasters across the UK recorded the exploits of the anonymous moggy after he – or she – was pictured in blatant disregard of safety protocols.
The cat was seen curled up on top of the Pendolino train 30 minutes before it was due to make its journey to Manchester on March 2, while it was stationed at the platform.
To rescue the frightened feline, the train was taken out of service and another train made available, so customers could continue their journey.
It took the purr-suasive station team and Avanti West Coast staff nearly two and half hours to safely coax the cat from the dangers of the 25,000-volt overhead lines that power the trains. A bin was pulled alongside the train to give the scared cat a platform to disembark.
Kathrin Pranga-Wells, Lead Station Manager at Euston for Avanti West Coast, said: “The things some pets do to avoid lockdown. Thankfully, we managed to avoid a cat-astrophe but it’s a bit of a mystery how the cat got up there!”
Joe Hendry, Network Rail Station Manager for Euston, said: “We often have to deal with birds inside the station but in all my time here this is the first train surfing cat! Thankfully curiosity didn’t kill this cat and we’re glad it avoided using up one of its nine lives thanks to the swift action of the station team and Avanti West Coast staff who organised for passengers to get onto a different train for the rescue to take place.”
Seemingly unaware of how close it was to losing one of its lives, the moggy was one cool cat with station staff describing it ‘swaggering off’ after its escapade.