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Andy Burnham says rail operator Avanti West Coast 'should have remained on probation' instead of getting new long-term contract

Andy Burnham says he believes train operator Avanti West Coast's 'probation' should have been extended instead of the company being awarded a new long-term contract to run services between Manchester and London.

Avanti, which replaced Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline in December 2019, had been monitored by the Government after passengers faced a host of problems last year.

The operator struggled with reliability and with passengers being unable to book tickets in advance, and was slammed in August last year for cutting services between Manchester and London.

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Mr Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said at the time he would ask the Government to strip Avanti of its franchise if improvements weren't made.

The operator's new long-term deal, announced on Tuesday, comes after it was handed two consecutive six-month contracts and ordered to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital routes, which was largely attributed to drivers refusing to work paid overtime shifts.

Speaking to the M.E.N. today, Mr Burnham said services still weren't good enough. "It's frustrating because they are not where they need to be," he said.

"I personally do not think they have made the case to have a long-term renewal. I think they have clearly made some improvements but are services where they need to be? Well, no they are not. That's why I think an extension of the probation that they were under would have been more appropriate than the long-term renewal."

Rail passengers, said Labour, would be 'appalled' that a long-term