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‘Chaotic’ service puts west coast main rail line contract under threat

Avanti west coast trains
Avanti west coast trains

The operator of trains on the west coast main line should be ousted if a full service is not restored quickly, according to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

Avanti West Coast, which runs intercity services from London to Manchester and Glasgow, should be stripped of control after “inflicting huge damage on Greater Manchester’s economy”, Mr Burnham said.

Meanwhile, although stopping short saying Avanti should be kicked off the line, former transport minister Paul Maynard said “the price passengers are paying for this has gone on too long”.

Avanti announced earlier this month that it would increase services after running just one in three of its normal services. Starting last week, the operator put on up to 10 extra trains a day between Manchester and London - mainly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays - as the newly-trained drivers begin work.

Mr Burnham said: “Avanti West Coast’s chaotic service is inflicting huge damage on Greater Manchester’s economy day after day and weekend after weekend. We are losing visitors to our city and we cannot accept that failure on this scale is allowed to continue any longer.

“When they cut the Manchester-London timetable six weeks ago, Avanti promised it would bring stability and certainty for passengers. It simply hasn’t happened. Avanti have tried to blame everyone else for this - including the trade unions and now Network Rail - but they must be held to account for their failings.

“In just over two weeks, the Transport Secretary will decide whether Avanti’s contract should be extended. Unless they can produce a credible plan to restore a full service very soon, we will be calling on the Government to strip them of this contract.”

As well as being faced with fewer trains on the line, Avanti passengers have been left frustrated at being unable to book tickets on the weekend in particular.

A memo shared with rail industry executives, and seen by the Telegraph, read: “Whilst weekday tickets are available several weeks out, weekend tickets are currently only available a few days out. This is because most weekends over the coming months have engineering work which means they need a bespoke timetable specific to that work.”

Mr Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North, and rail minister until early 2020, said: “There is a more fundamental staffing issue at the heart of this and whilst I sympathise to some extent, the price passengers are paying for this has gone on too long.”

An Avanti spokesman said: “Our revised timetable has reduced the percentage of short-notice cancellations and so improved reliability for our customers. We’ve also worked hard to produce a plan to incrementally increase services, particularly on the Manchester route which is our busiest, over the next two months, and then in December we are planning to return to a full timetable on most of our network.

"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."