Avanti West Coast bank holiday timetable ‘chaos’ blasted by Manchester mayor

Mr Burnham said he told bosses at the beleaguered rail operator that if there was no plan to restore the full timetable by next week he would ask the Government to strip it of the franchise.
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Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has blasted the ongoing Avanti West Coast timetable shambles affecting some of the city-region’s most important intercity public transport links.

Following a meeting with the under-fire train operator Mr Burnham said he had given Avanti a deadline to get the full timetable restored or face calls for the Government to strip it of the franchise.

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He was also highly critical of the lack of opportunities for people to buy tickets, saying there was no indication on Friday (26 August) how people could travel on Bank Holiday Monday.

The operator slashed its intercity services, with trains between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston reduced to one an hour, and has clashed with trade unions over drivers refusing to voluntarily work on their days off.

This has led to chaotic scenes on the railways which Mr Burnham said were unacceptable. He also hit out at the company over its inability to produce a plan to restore the full Manchester to London timetable, something Mr Burnham said he had expected to see at the meeting.

Platforms at London Euston crammed with passengers as they try to board a service to Manchester Piccadilly. Photo: David CollinsPlatforms at London Euston crammed with passengers as they try to board a service to Manchester Piccadilly. Photo: David Collins
Platforms at London Euston crammed with passengers as they try to board a service to Manchester Piccadilly. Photo: David Collins

What has Mr Burnham said to Avanti West Coast?

Mr Burnham met with Avanti West Coast bosses on Thursday (25 August) and afterwards released a statement which slammed the current situation on the railways and demanded rapid action from the beleaguered firm.

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Mr Burnham said: “Avanti West Coast introduced its reduced timetable between Manchester and London to provide ‘greater certainty’ to passengers. On that test alone, it has comprehensively failed.

“This week, I have witnessed chaos on trains and passengers in stressful situations as they arrive at seats that have been double-booked. I have heard reports of dangerous stampedes at London Euston as people clamour to get on the Manchester trains.

Andy Burnham  Mayor of Greater ManchesterAndy Burnham  Mayor of Greater Manchester
Andy Burnham Mayor of Greater Manchester

“And passengers are contacting me to complain that the Avanti website is slow to release tickets for sale and pushes people towards more expensive options like open returns or buying two singles.

“Even today, tickets for travel on Bank Holiday Monday have not been released.

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“People pay sky-high prices to travel on Avanti West Coast trains and I made it crystal clear to the company when I met them yesterday that none of the above is good enough.

“The only thing that will bring greater certainty is the running of more trains and the restoration of the full Manchester to London timetable.

“I was expecting Avanti to present me with a plan at yesterday’s meeting for when trains will be re-introduced. It is disappointing to say the least that they were unable to do so.

“I have now asked for that plan by the end of next week at the very latest. If they fail to provide it, or if it fails to restore our full level of service within a reasonable timescale, I will ask the new Prime Minister to remove their contract.

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“Having received the company’s response, I will make a further statement on Saturday 3 September.

“In the meantime, I have asked Avanti West Coast to improve the provision of early information to passengers, particularly over this Bank Holiday weekend; release seats on trains earlier so people can book further in advance and address on-board maintenance issues such as leaking roofs and broken café facilities.

“Finally, I have made it clear that anyone who has been seriously inconvenienced by this mismanagement - or forced to pay over the odds to travel - should receive commensurate compensation from the company.”

What has Avanti said?

A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast said: “Our follow up meeting with the Mayor of Greater Manchester was another opportunity to explain why we took this difficult decision to reduce our timetable as well as update them on our plans for the coming weeks for the service. We have reduced our timetable to ensure a reliable service is delivered so our customers can travel with greater certainty.

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“This decision was not taken lightly – but was necessary due to the ongoing industrial action which has seen drivers no longer willing to work overtime. Although we have a sufficient number of drivers (595, more than in 2019), like all operators, we rely on overtime to operate our full timetable and to maintain our training of drivers.

“When the pandemic took hold, aside from the volume of services being run each day, driver training was the next most impacted part of the business. It was suspended entirely in March 2020 which has seen a backlog of trained drivers. Training has now fully resumed, but we need drivers to work overtime to make up for those on training.

“To improve the situation, we need to continue this training of more drivers, or see a return of current drivers on the overtime they have historically worked. We would urge the rail unions to engage in meaningful industry reform discussions around modernising working practices and developing a railway fit for the 21st century and we look forward to further talks to resolve this situation.

“We value feedback from all our national, regional and local stakeholders, and remain willing to meet the range of stakeholders to help inform our decisions. We are focused on delivering the best outcomes for our all of our passengers across our UK-wide network, as well as improving goodwill with our colleagues by working with them collaboratively to develop our plans.

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“We understand and apologise for the enormous frustration and inconvenience felt by our customers at the moment. We remain committed to delivering the best possible service for our customers and the regions we serve. We would advise customers to check our website before they travel.”

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