Richard Scott: Attracting people back to rail

Introduction from Richard Scott, Director of Corporate Affairs at West Coast Partnership.

As we continue to transition to the new normal and recover from the pandemic, we are not losing sight of all we have to deliver for the customers and communities on our route. This newsletter will highlight just some of the key activities that we have achieved over the last six months as we attract people back to rail.


You may have seen our new campaign “Feel Good Travel!” with Turbo the Turtle on your TV or at stations, as well as our new wrap for one of our iconic Pendolinos to highlight COP 26. We also welcomed the return to rail travel with a wedding celebrated on one of our trains and have hosted the Prime Minister, Ministers, and Mayors at our stations. All this promotes the safety of rail travel post-pandemic, something which was backed up by a Network Rail and Imperial College London study which found zero Covid on our trains and stations.


During this time we have also been working on upgrades to improve the travel experience for our passengers. We have started on a £117 million upgrade to all our Pendolino trains and a £45 million investment to upgrade Wi-Fi onboard.


We have also celebrated successes during this period. We hosted the Prime Minister as he presented a Heart of Gold Award to one of our staff in Warrington, won two awards at the Women in Rail Awards, and were named Sustainability Team of the Year.


Over the next six months we expect to host our annual stakeholder conference and our first refurbished Pendolinos will also be completed, bringing a better customer experience for passengers.


While this newsletter will give highlights on what we have been up to and what’s ahead, 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.

Avanti West Coast unveils Climate Train for COP 26

A special 'Climate Train' operated between the Netherlands and Scotland to mark COP26.

On 30 October, Avanti West Coast unveiled a special Pendolino train, with a unique sustainability design, to celebrate the Climate Train’s journey from London to Glasgow, marking the start of COP26.


This was part of a wider Climate Train special operated between the Netherlands and Scotland to carry passengers to COP26, the international climate change conference in Glasgow, thanks to a partnership between Avanti West Coast, Eurostar, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, ProRail and Youth for Sustainable Travel. 


Official delegations from the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Germany joined young people, MEPs, and NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, to enjoy one of the more sustainable ways to travel between the continent and COP26.


Whilst travelling at 186mph between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels and London, youth activists joined politicians and rail experts to debate and exchange ideas, tackling topics such as how to accelerate the modal shift towards sustainable travel and how innovation in rail can support this.


On arrival in the UK, delegates made their way between St Pancras and Euston via London’s first “Wellbeing Walk” - an alternative walking route which aims to avoid high levels of pollution on the busier roads.


Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “Our railways are one of the most sustainable ways for people to travel. As we host the world at COP26, I’m proud that our railway is playing its part in the fight against climate change. We are committed to achieving a net zero rail network by 2050, ensuring our railways continue to play a pivotal role in enabling greener, cleaner journeys for passengers.”


Phil Whittingham, Managing Director, Avanti West Coast said: “Climate change is a serious threat to everyone on the planet and Avanti West Coast, like the wider rail industry, is committed to cleaner, greener transport for all. By uniting with operators across the continent, the Climate Train’s journey illustrates the ease of travelling between countries providing customers with a sustainable alternative.


“But our commitment goes beyond COP26. For example, in the next few years we will be replacing our diesel-only trains with a combination of electric and bi-mode trains that will substantially reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.”


You can find full press release here.

‘Feel Good Travel’ campaign launched with Turbo the Turtle

Avanti West Coast launches new 'Feel Good Travel' campaign to encourage people back to rail.

On 20 August, Avanti West Coast unveiled a new, fun campaign titled ‘Feel Good Travel’ aimed at encouraging people back to rail.


The highlight of the campaign is Turbo, a rollerblading turtle, whizzing around on rollerblades through key Avanti West Coast destinations.


The new campaign includes a 60-second television advert and also appears on video-on-demand, out-of-home sites, radio, in print and digital media.


The majority of filming for the advert took place in and around Manchester with a selection of rural shots in the village of Castleton. The final scene shows one of Avanti West Coast’s iconic Pendolinos crossing Twemlow Viaduct in Cheshire.


Kate Squires, Marketing Director at Avanti West Coast said: “We really want to inject a feel-good vibe when people think about travelling with us. That’s the purpose of this campaign.”


You can find the full press release and the video of the advert here.

Avanti West Coast begins the UK’s biggest ever train fleet upgrade

Work begins on UK’s largest ever fleet refurbishment which will transform all 56 Pendolinos.

Work is now underway on Avanti West Coast’s Pendolino fleet refurbishment, in partnership with Alstom and Angel Trains. This is the UK’s biggest ever train fleet upgrade, a £117 million investment which will transform all 56 of the iconic Pendolinos to ‘as new’ condition.


Improvements will include:


  • Replacing 25,000 Standard Class seats;
  • Converting one First Class carriage on each of the 35 eleven-carriage Pendolinos to provide more than 2,000 extra Standard class seats;
  • Introducing a new Café Bar;
  • Installing improved lighting and new interior carpets;
  • Greater use of technology with customer-friendly passenger information screens;
  • Additional luggage space;
  • Power points at every seat;
  • Refurbished toilets.


The first train (pictured), set number 390125, is due to re-enter service in the new year. The upgrade programme will run until February 2024 when the last of the 56 strong fleet is expected to leave Widnes, where the upgrade is taking place.


Rail manufacturer Alstom will oversee the refurbishment at their depot, securing 100 skilled jobs. It is being financed by Angel Trains, one of the UK’s leading train asset management companies.


This refurbishment programme is in addition to a new fleet of electric and bi-mode trains that will replace Avanti West Coast’s diesel-powered Voyagers in 2023. These projects will bring significant improvement to passenger journeys on Avanti West Coast’s network.


You can find the full press release alongside a video of the first train entering the depot here.

Investment brings improved Wi-Fi onboard

Avanti West Coast is investing in a project to improve Wi-Fi connectivity along the West Coast Main Line.

Avanti West Coast is investing in a project to improve Wi-Fi connectivity along the West Coast Main Line.


The company is investing £45 million in a deal with BT, and their mobile arm EE, to add network capacity to nearly 200 masts along the West Coast Main Line (WCML) route, providing 4G coverage across 98% of the WCML by June 2023.


Work is already underway and will enable faster, more reliable onboard Wi-Fi on Avanti services.


Phil Whittingham, Avanti West Coast’s Managing Director, said: “This is a really exciting partnership with BT. The benefits of working with the UK’s leading telecommunications and network provider on this project will enhance reliability of our Wi-Fi and give faster speeds on our route.


“These improvements will enable our customers to stay connected during their journey and be more productive onboard our trains.”


The new masts will also provide better connectivity for EE customers who are local to the West Coast Main Line, as well as emergency service respondents in the area - with faster data transfer speeds available and more mobile devices able to use the network simultaneously.


The news has attracted praise from Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, who said: “Avanti West Coast’s upgrade work, supported by the Department for Transport, is a win for everyone who uses, or lives close to the West Coast Main Line.


“Investing in better connectivity helps transform rail travel, improving journeys for passengers by building a black-spot free network, with the added benefit of supporting local communities.”


You can find the full press release here.

Prime Minister presents Heart of Gold Award to Avanti West Coast Employee

Heroic Avanti West Coast employee honoured by Prime Minister.

On 18 November, the Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Warrington Bank Quay station and presented a Railway Benefit Fund Heart of Gold Award to Jennifer Birdsall, an Avanti West Coast employee.


The Heart of Gold Awards are organised by the Railway Benefit Fund, a charity that supports current and former railway employees, and are designed to celebrate the efforts of people working in the rail industry.


Jennifer, who sat for hours talking to a woman contemplating suicide, was recognised for looking after vulnerable customers and the station community. As well as helping vulnerable people, Jennifer has built an army of fans at Warrington where she is known for making cups of tea and coffee for train enthusiasts and working with local volunteers to arrange station plant displays.


She was expecting to receive the award, under the “Going the Extra Mile” category from the Railway Benefit Fund after colleagues at the station nominated her but was not expecting to receive it in person from the Prime Minister, who stopped at Warrington during a tour of stations in the North.


The Prime Minister, alongside Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, presented Jennifer with her award, taking time to talk about her role at the station before jumping on an Avanti West Coast service for Wolverhampton.


Jennifer was also praised by Pete Waterman, the President of Railway Benefit Fund who uses Warrington Bank Quay regularly. “The Going the Extra Mile Award couldn’t go to a more deserving individual; I see Jenny regularly when I travel from Warrington Bank Quay, and she is always so warm and friendly. Jenny truly has a Heart of Gold,” he said.


Jennifer added that she was honoured to receive the award on behalf of her colleagues at the station. “To win the Heart of Gold Award is truly amazing and I’m proud to receive it on behalf of all my colleagues at Warrington Bank Quay. We’re a close-knit team, who are proud to serve Warrington and want to make a difference in the community.”


You can find full press release of this story here.

Two winners at Women in Rail Awards

The awards showcase individuals who have significantly contributed to improving gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the rail industry.

On 30 September, Avanti West Coast won two awards at the Women in Rail Awards. The Awards seek to showcase individuals who have significantly contributed to improving gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the rail industry.


Glasgow Onboard Manager Karen Paton won the Women in Rail Award, one of the flagship awards of the evening. She was nominated by colleagues for her charitable work supporting communities, hospitals, and care homes during the pandemic. Karen came up with the idea of making boxes of supplies that were distributed to local hospitals and care homes. Struck by the positive feedback, the idea was extended to the Anglo Scottish rail route, with parcels sent by trains to other stations down the line, liaising with her colleagues for distribution to local communities.


Karen also created a video for her 3,500 plus Avanti West Coast colleagues to encourage simple acts of kindness to help raise a smile, highlight our willingness to help each other, keep positive and stay motivated.


Karen said: "I’m a bit overwhelmed if I’m honest. Whilst my name is on the award, its more about teamwork, and how we have all stuck together to deal with the challenges of the last 18 months.”


Avanti West Coast’s Talent Team also won the Best Apprenticeships Scheme for its pioneering Lead the Way and Emerging Leaders programmes. Developed by the Talent Management Team, the programme was created to help re-energise our people following a tough year and to provide self-development opportunities to support career progression.


These programmes showed that instead of learning being put on hold during the pandemic, it could inspire hundreds of our people to achieve valuable leadership qualifications. Both programmes have been extremely popular, with 100% of delegates saying it will make a positive difference to company culture.


Caroline Donaldson, Managing Director for West Coast Partnership Development, was also shortlisted for the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award.


You can find the full press release here.

Zero Covid found on Avanti West Coast stations and trains

A study carried out by Network Rail and Imperial College London found no traces of Covid-19 in major railway stations or onboard Avanti West Coast services.

On 1 August, Network Rail announced that it found no traces of Covid-19 at four major railway stations or onboard Avanti West Coast trains in a test undertaken by Imperial College London.


Network Rail conducted two lots of testing – one in January and another in June – at four stations served by Avanti West Coast: London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly station.


Heavily touched areas such as escalator handles were swabbed, while hour-long air samples were checked for airborne virus. Tests were repeated on trains running between the stations – three of which were Avanti West Coast Trains.


All lab tests by Imperial College London showed no Covid-19 contamination of any surface tested or airborne particles of the virus in station or on trains.


The conclusions from the independent report commissioned by Network Rail say enhanced cleaning methods across the rail industry is one of the key reasons for the negative results.


Speaking about the study results, Customer Experience Director Natasha Grice said, “We really welcome these findings, which demonstrate that customers can travel with confidence. We have a well-established enhanced cleaning regime with a focus on touch points, including door buttons, tables, handrails, armrests, and toilets, as well as using long-lasting sanitiser onboard our trains. We’re delighted to have this clear evidence that backs up our approach.”


You can find more information on Network Rail’s press release here.


HS2 Minister visits Crewe

HS2 Minister visits Crewe to announce how HS2 will deliver regional growth.

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson MP visited Crewe station on 26 August, to see first-hand how investment in the station and network will drive regional growth and community regeneration, as well as help prepare for HS2.


At Crewe, investment includes collaborating with stakeholders to develop new car parking, improved passenger information/wayfinding, new ticket machines, a community room, energy conservation improvements, waiting facilities, and increased cycle parking.


The Minister met Caroline Donaldson, Managing Director of West Coast Partnership Development, executives from HS2 Ltd and Network Rail, local MP Kieran Mullan, leaders from Cheshire East Council and local business representatives.


Avanti West Coast was represented by Station Manager Karen Grimshaw, Welcome Host Roshni Haque and Deputy Team Leader Olly Brady.


The Minister unveiled a plaque to mark Crewe as a future HS2 station, as well as making an announcement on new jobs that the HS2 development will bring to Crewe and the region.

Update on High Speed Rail

West Coast Partnership Development starts engagement on key products in preparation for HS2.

West Coast Partnership Development (WCPD), the shadow operator for HS2, has been engaging with stakeholders on some key parts of its preparation for high-speed services, including what the future market will look like and the high level timetable.


The Strategic Market Report is an annually updated report which assesses the passenger market for high-speed services and conventional services and provides a market segmentation approach for the corridor served by the West Coast Main Line and HS2.


The assessment has a 15-year outlook to 2036, but for some cases has taken an outlook to 2039 to better reflect HS2 developments. These assessments inform the level of service and customer proposition to deliver a travel experience that meets customer expectations.


WCPD has also been seeking views from key stakeholders on the Train Services Specification, which sets out what future timetables might look like once the construction of HS2 is complete and operational.


To date, a baseline validation has been completed (i.e. analysing the baseline timetable for HS2) and a long list of options have been developed.


These pieces of work will continue to be refined over the coming years in collaboration with wider stakeholders, to deliver a high-speed rail service that meets passenger needs.

Andy Street and Andrew Haines visit Coventry

Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands, and Andrew Haines, Chief Executive visited Coventry for a station tour, roundtable discussion, and tour of the Turner Prize exhibition.

On 26 October, Phil Whittingham, Managing Director of Avanti West Coast joined Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, and Andy Street, the Mayor of West Midlands, for a tour of the new Coventry Station, followed by a roundtable discussion on the introduction of the Great British Railways (GBR), and tour of the Turner Prize Exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.


Coventry Station has been undergoing a major redevelopment over recent years, led by Coventry City Council as part of a wider redevelopment of the surrounding Friargate area which will continue to regenerate the area for the next 15 years. The £82 million station redevelopment scheme has been part funded by West Midlands Combined Authority and the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.


Avanti West Coast has actively supported the redevelopment of the station and provided match funding for the cycle storage facility as well as approximately £500k funding to enhance waiting rooms and lighting. It is also jointly funding artwork installations across the station with Coventry City Council to give a visible lift to the original station. Avanti will take over the operation of the extended station from December/January.


The roundtable following the station tour provided a valuable opportunity for Avanti West Coast to hear from Andy Street on rail investment in West Midlands, and from Andrew Haines around work underway on GBR and its challenges and opportunities. Avanti is keen to ensure it is at the forefront of these investments and reforms to ensure the passenger is at the heart of the changes that will be made with real benefits for customers.


Finally, Avanti West Coast was invited to a private tour of the Turner Prize 2021 exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, as the official transport partner for Coventry City of Culture. Coventry City of Culture is expected to bring approximately 2.5 million visitors to the region during the 12-month programme which runs from May 2021 – April 2022. The Turner Prize is a key event of City of Culture and is one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art events.


Avanti is the official transport partner of Coventry City of Culture with its partnership focusing on the Turner Prize.

A high-speed wedding on the Marriage Carriage

A pair of train enthusiasts who endured months of disappointment trying to get married finally held their dream wedding celebration on a Pendolino.

On 11 August, a pair of train enthusiasts who had endured months of disappointment trying to get married finally held their dream wedding celebration on a Pendolino.


Following a unique competition to find a couple, a pair of train enthusiasts – Laura and Jane – were able to host their dream wedding on a Pendolino on the 10:59 Avanti West Coast service from London Euston to Birmingham.


Jane and Laura’s nuptials were put on hold for the previous 18 months due to restrictions and lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lucky couple was selected by a panel (made up of Jane Fry, Editor-in-Chief of Affinity Weddings Magazine and Avanti West Coast Train Manager, Paul Austin) out of almost 150 couples who entered.


Before setting off they enjoyed a reception in the Avanti West Coast First Class Lounge, complete with a photo booth supplied by Bespoke Event Services.


The Marriage Carriage was decorated by North London based florist Florette Flowers. A Wedding Breakfast was provided in First Class and a train-themed wedding cake was supplied by The Pudding Compartment based in Flint, north Wales.


To keep with the railway theme, Laura and Jane were wed on board by Avanti West Coast Train Manager and ex-Clergyman, Peter Davis.


You can find the full press release and video highlight of the wedding here.

Community art project set to bring Hope to Hamilton

Avanti West Coast supports charity to raise awareness of mental health with interactive artwork.

Avanti West Coast announced that it has awarded a charity £40,000 in funding to deliver a unique art project at Hamilton Central station.


Titled ‘Hope in Hamilton’, the project centres on creating a piece of interactive art at the station with the input of local people in south Lanarkshire who are being supported with their mental wellbeing.


The idea builds upon on the work of Rail 74 Community Rail Partnership (CRP) - a charity that aims to deliver community benefits along the Rutherglen to Hamilton Central line through innovative projects – to improve mental health.


Avanti West Coast are supporting the initiative through their Community Rail Project Fund and are partnering with fellow train operators ScotRail and CrossCountry to help deliver Hope in Hamilton. 


You can find the full press release here.

West Coast Partnership brings together Community Rail partners

West Coast Partnership hosted its annual community rail conference on 7 June.

West Coast Partnership (WCP) hosted its annual community rail conference on 7 June. This was attended by 20 Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs).


The conference provided WCP with an opportunity to update CRPs on the business, its recovery campaign, partnership working, and its responsible business plan.


It also allowed attendees to hear from Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of Community Rail Network, on community rail’s role in the recovery of passenger confidence, and to hear successful case studies from Heart of England CRP and The Settle Carlisle Railway Company Ltd.


Attendees were also provided with opportunities to workshop ideas on how CRPs could support passenger recovery and how CRPs could make a real difference to over 1 million lives by 2031 through community impact.

Industry unites to support Hixon memorial

Avanti West Coast works together with industry to commemorate the Hixon rail crash.

On 19 August, CrossCountry announced that with support from Avanti West Coast, Network Rail, North Staffs Community Rail Partnership, and Train Drivers’ union ASLEF, it will provide support to the local memorial that commemorates the tragic level crossing accident which happened in the small Staffordshire village of Hixon in 1968.


Locals have already created their own memorial garden in the village to commemorate those who lost their lives.


CrossCountry contributed £3,000 to support the local memorial, which will provide for a new shed for their equipment and support replacing the vandalised window in the adjoining church that overlooks the garden.


Network Rail have also matched the contribution, and Avanti West Coast and North Staffs Community Rail Partnership have added a further £1,500. Train Drivers’ union ASLEF have rallied around through their branches, welfare societies and union representatives raising £1,385 towards the project.


The announcement also included naming of a CrossCountry train to ‘Hixon, 6th January 1968’ to memorialise the disaster.


The announcement took place at the Stafford railway station, which is an Avanti West Coast managed station.

Sustainability Team of the Year honour for Avanti West Coast

Avanti West Coast's Responsible Business Team recognised at BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2021. 

On 22 September, Avanti West Coast's Responsible Business Team won the Sustainability Team of the Year at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2021.


The Responsible Business team’s success in achieving all its environmental targets, while promoting their Sustainability Strategy companywide, saw them win at the UK’s most prestigious green business awards.


Judges recognised the team for their “impressive track record and ambitious employee engagement and training programmes that have helped to embed sustainability at the heart of the business”.


Highlights which earned them this award include:


  • Creating the Sustainable Development Strategy titled ‘Our Responsible Plan’, which builds on four pillars – planet, people, customers and communities –with bold transformational goals to inspire the whole business


  • Rolling out their strategy through a virtual programme to their leadership team and to provide companywide engagement by enlisting the support of Avanti West Coast’s 30 Green Champions – individuals who help drive sustainability initiatives at a local level


  • Successfully transitioning the environmental management system (EMS) so that it could measure and track Avanti West Coast’s environmental performance and continue to meet the standard set by the International Organisation of Standardisations (ISO).


You can find full press release here.