Trains Manchester to London: Mayor warns ‘months of chaos’ ahead if Avanti don’t restore full services quickly
Avanti West Coast announced a plan last month to restore three trains per hour between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston from 11 December - but Andy Burnham wants speedier action.
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Andy Burnham says cancelling Avanti’s contract could cause more disruption – but he still believes this is the best way of improving train services to London.
The Greater Manchester mayor has written to the transport secretary urging her to remove the company’s contract if services do not improve immediately.
Labour politicians from across the North West have also joined calls for the train operator’s contract to not be renewed by the government next week.
Avanti West Coast announced a plan last month to restore three trains per hour between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston from 11 December.
However, Mr Burnham says he will accept no less than two trains per hour between the two cities by the end of this month, arguing that renewing the contract without these strict conditions would ‘sell this city region short’.
The operator’s current contract expires on 16 October and the government has said it will ‘consider all options’ when it comes to a decision on its future.
Since the summer, services between Manchester and London have been cut to one train an hour, with passengers often unable to book tickets in advance.
The mayor hit back against Avanti’s claims that reducing services would bring ‘stability and certainty’, complaining of continued cancellations and delays.
He said that this ‘meltdown’ with the timetable has had a ‘profoundly negative impact’ on the regional and national economy, affecting thousands every day.
And he has warned that waiting until December for a full timetable of three trains an hour to be restored would result in ‘two more months of chaos’.
What did Andy Burnham say?
Mr Burnham believes the ‘most likely solution’ is to cancel Avanti’s contract, but he admits this could cause more disruption to services in the short term.
He said: “It might mean more disruption in the short term, but it then would hold out the promise of recasting this service in the long term.
“What I do know is that we can’t carry on with what we’ve got at the moment.
“It’s just nowhere near good enough.”
The Labour mayor praised the new transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan for taking a ‘more constructive approach’ than her predecessor who, together with the train operator, blamed trade unions for all of the disruption caused.
He said those claims have now been ‘completely exposed as being false’ because of Avanti’s failure to deliver what they promised they would do.
Mr Burnham said there has been a ‘serious loss of trust’ with the company which told him in August it would restore two trains an hour by September.
He argued that the ‘most likely solution’ is to remove the company’s contract, but he said he is open to alternative ways of restoring a better service quicker.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “People deserve certainty and confidence that their train will run on time, and while the change of schedule was unavoidable, it should minimise the fallout for passengers.
“The problems facing Avanti are a prime example of why we need to modernise our railways, so passengers benefit from reliable timetables that don’t rely on the goodwill of drivers volunteering to work overtime in the first place.
“Government will consider all options when Avanti West Coast’s contract expires on 16 October.”
A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast said: “We are already delivering on our commitment to increase the number of services we are running between Manchester and London, with 3 or 4 trains an hour departing Manchester Piccadilly at the key times of the day.
“We remain focused on providing a reliable train service for our customers and restoring a full timetable of three trains an hour all day between London and Manchester, in December.
“Our revised timetable, with no reliance on overtime, is also proving more reliable – in the last week, we have run 300 trains between London and Manchester, with approximately 1 in 30 of them cancelled, mainly because of short-notice sickness.
“That compares with 1 out of 13 trains cancelled back in mid-July.
“Nevertheless, we know that at the moment we’re not delivering the service our customers rightly expect and we apologise for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this is causing.
“We would like to thank our customers for their patience and understanding.”