Andy Burnham will ask new Prime Minister to 'strip Avanti' contract if train services do not improve

Andy Burnham held a meeting with Avanti West Coast bosses. Credit: PA Images

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham is calling for Avanti West Coast to be stripped of its franchise, after the train operator severely cut its services to and from Manchester.

The rail company announced that from Sunday 15 August, it was cutting the number of trains between London Euston and Manchester from one every 20 minutes to one an hour "until further notice."

It blamed severe staff shortages, as well as "unofficial strike action" by members of drivers' union ASLEF. Union bosses say this is "disingenuous" and blames Avanti for failing to employ enough drivers.

Andy Burnham says the reduction in services at this time of year is "seriously detrimental" to the city-region's economy.

Avanti West Coast slashed its timetables and suspended ticket sales due to “unofficial strike action” by drivers

The Mayor met with Avanti bosses to make it clear "in no uncertain terms our deep unhappiness at the way in which our city-region has been treated".

He said: "Avanti's decision to take this action without any prior consultation or even notification shows a lack of respect for our city-region and its people."

The Mayor asked the company to produce a recovery plan that helps passengers in the short-term, but which also commits to providing more trains per hour between Greater Manchester and London as quickly as possible.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham. Credit: PA images

Mr Burham said, in the immediate term, he asked Avanti to consider the declassification of trains – suspending first class restrictions – to make more seats available on the booking system at an affordable price.

He said: "When we receive Avanti's plan, we will consider whether it is acceptable for our residents and businesses and, if it isn’t, we made clear to the company that we will ask the new Prime Minister to strip them of this contract."

Avanti West Coast say they will "fully consider" the requests and that they "remain committed to delivering the best possible services to the region.

Avanti has apologised to its customers as they reduce their timetable and suspend ticket sales. Credit: PA images

As few as four trains per hour - from London Euston, one to each of Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham - will run from Sunday, 15 August, in an attempt to stop short-notice cancellations that have plagued the service in recent months.

Journeys between Manchester and London Euston are the worst affected by the cut, with train frequencies reduced from three per hour to just one.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been accused of being "clueless" about rail disruption after overstating the number of trains running between Manchester and London.

In an interview on Friday 19 August, he insisted there are four services an hour, before later telling the programme there is one an hour on "strike days" caused by "unofficial" industrial action.

Andy Burnham tweeted to say he "couldn't believe what he was watching."

A spokesperson for Avanti said the decision to cut services, "was not taken lightly, and we are sorry for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this will cause".

The train operator has urged rail unions to "engage in meaningful industry reform talks around modernising working practices and developing a railway fit for the 21st century."

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