Reversal of Avanti West Coast timetable cuts ‘absolute priority’ says minister

Transport minister Trudy Harrison made the comments in Parliament Credit: PA Images

Transport minister Trudy Harrison says Increasing train services between Manchester and London is an “absolute priority”, but has not given any timeline to do so.

Ms Harrison made the comments in response to an urgent question in Parliament about Avanti West Coast.

The operator has run fewer than half of its normal services since 14 August, blaming the reduction on “unofficial strike action” by drivers.

Issues on the West Coast mainline are mounting Credit: PA Images

She told MPs: “Avanti has reduced their timetable in response to the withdrawal of the rest day working.

"Reducing the timetable provided better certainty and reliability for passengers as it reduced the number of short-notice cancellations.

“The department continues to work closely with Avanti to monitor performance whilst they continue to review the demand data and the position regarding train crew availability to inform options to reliably increase services.

“An increase in services between Manchester and London remains an absolute priority and Avanti will continue to look for opportunities to support passengers and businesses along this route.”

Trudy Harrison is MP for Copeland Credit: PA Images

The minister faced shouts of “when?” from Labour MPs after she made the comments.Avanti says it normally runs around 400 trains per week with drivers voluntarily working on their rest days – for extra pay – but that “dropped suddenly to fewer than 50”.

Ms Harrison earlier said the West Coast partnership franchise agreement is due to expire on 16 October, adding a “decision has yet to be taken” by the Transport Secretary.

She added: “Given the market and the commercially sensitive nature of the outcome, further information cannot be provided at this time.”

Avanti have reduced the number of services running on the mainline

Labour MP Navendu Mishra (Stockport) said: “The chaos continues to blight the lives of thousands of people in my own constituency, but also across the north west of England and other parts of the UK.”

He added: “Aslef and RMT union members across the country have indeed recently been on strike in defence of their pay, terms and conditions. And I pay tribute to their members for doing so.

“But their strike action has no bearing on the fact that Avanti have a business model which expects train drivers to work their rest days, rather than having a sufficient staffing level as a way of maintaining the service.

“There have been underlying problems at Avanti for a very long time”, he said, adding there “continues to be a lack of clarity and certainty around the release of tickets”.

TransPennine have also introduced an emergency timetable Credit: PA Images

Pressure on the West mainline has continued with TransPennine Express introducing an emergency timetable from Monday 12 September.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said Avanti is in its "last chance saloon".

Mr Burnham said: "What this reveals is that the reason given at the start of this reduced timetable is clearly not the true story.

"This company are in the last chance saloon because I cannot accept indefinite chaos on this railway line and the loss of those services."