Greater Manchester leaders and London Mayor blast train cuts as “national outrage”
Leaders in Greater Manchester and London mayor Sadiq Khan have criticised Avanti West Coast over cuts to a number of services to the capital branding the decision “completely unacceptable”.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, leader of Manchester City Council, Bev Craig, and Sadiq Khan have urged the train operator to restore a full timetable saying the cuts were a “national outrage”.
Avanti West Coast, which runs services between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston, slashed its timetable to just one service an hour and suspended ticket sales on Monday due to “unofficial strike action” by drivers.
This limited timetable will be in place “until further notice”, Avanti West Coast has said.
“The plan to run just four trains an hour from London Euston, with only one service to Manchester, came with no notice nor any consultation beforehand and no date by which the full timetable will be restored,” a letter to Mr Shapps signed by both mayors and Manchester City Council leader Bev Craig said.
“This is completely unacceptable”.
The letter adds: “Our cities rely heavily on the West Coast Main Line and this unilateral withdrawal of services, on the basis of what appears to be a complete failure of Avanti’s senior management to manage rostering and rest day working, is frankly a national outrage.”
They say if Avanti are unable to agree to a date for restoring the timetable, the contract for operating the service should be taken away from them.
They also urged for an urgent meeting with Mr Shapps and Avanti’s management to agree on a date for full restoration of the timetable.
In a letter to the rail industry, seen by the PA news agency, Avanti West Coast managing director Phil Whittingham wrote that the “current industrial relations climate” has resulted in “severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by Aslef members”.
He explained that the operator normally ran around 400 trains per week with drivers voluntarily working on their rest days – for extra pay – but that has “dropped suddenly to fewer than 50”.
Mr Whittingham wrote that the previous level of rest day working is “necessary” while more than 250 new drivers are recruited and trained.
The full letter Grant Shapps reads: “We are angered by Avanti West Coast’s decision to inflict a drastically reduced timetable on travel between our cities.
“The plan to run just four trains an hour from London Euston, with only one service to Manchester, came with no notice nor any consultation beforehand and no date by which the full timetable will be restored. This is completely unacceptable.
“Avanti’s severely reduced timetable will damage some of the UK’s largest and most important economic and cultural centres at a critical time in their recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This month alone will see the Manchester Pride Festival and Notting Hill Carnival take place, alongside sporting fixtures and other attractions for which people will need to travel between London and Manchester. This morning, people are already unable to book advance tickets online.
“Our cities rely heavily on the West Coast Main Line and this unilateral withdrawal of services, on the basis of what appears to be a complete failure of Avanti’s senior management to manage rostering and rest day working, is frankly a national outrage.
“Avanti have blamed this disruption on “unofficial strike action” by ASLEF, the train drivers’ union. Not only is this description disingenuous – drivers are completely entitled to choose not to work on their rest days – it also seeks to shift blame off Avanti management for their failure to provide appropriate mitigations for an entirely foreseeable situation.
“It also reflects extremely poorly on an operator that should be working hard to bring the public back to rail. Avanti’s decision to suspend ticket sales damages the efforts of other public transport operators, making it harder for people to take the train and other sustainable forms of travel.
“In order to prevent the enormous disruption and economic damage these service reductions will cause, we are seeking an urgent meeting with you, your officials and Avanti’s management to agree a date for full restoration of the timetable.
“If Avanti is unable to agree a date, or is unable to meet that date once agreed, we would ask that you begin the process of withdrawing the operator’s contract and do not grant it a new National Rail Contract once current arrangements end in October this year.
“Given the seriousness of this situation, we would appreciate an early reply.”