Avanti West Coast and ministers risking Christmas rail chaos, says Labour

Posted on October 16, 2022Comments Off on Avanti West Coast and ministers risking Christmas rail chaos, says Labour

Labour has accused Avanti West Coast and ministers of risking chaos over Christmas after it emerged the rail operator’s new contract gives no guarantees on improved weekend services, and with tickets unavailable for booking over the festive period.

The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, has written to the government seeking assurances about weekend travel along the hugely busy west coast mainline, saying the current situation was “staggering”.

The rail operator had its contract to run trains between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh extended earlier this month on a short-term basis until April, but was told it must “drastically improve services” after a major contraction of its timetable.

Avanti cut back the number of trains in runs significantly in August – between London Euston and Manchester they have gone from one every 20 minutes to one an hour – and limited ticket sales. The operator blamed unofficial strike action, an accusation unions reject.

In her letter to the transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Haigh noted that the improvement plan announced with the new contract made no mention of improvements to what she called “shambolic weekend services”.

It was currently impossible for passengers to book any weekend tickets at all on Avanti West Coast throughout November or over Christmas, she said.

Haigh wrote: “It is frankly staggering that at this critical time of year for businesses, passengers are unable to book weekend travel across the length of the UK. This will be deeply damaging for regional growth.

“That’s why you must urgently address the gaping holes in your botched improvement plan. So will you demand that these critical weekend services for the period up to Christmas are urgently made available to book?

“Can you explain why you seemingly handed over millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money without securing this most basic commitment in the first place? And can you outline how many total weekend services Avanti are planning to run throughout this contract extension?”

An Avanti spokesperson said getting tickets available as soon as possible was a priority. “Our weekday tickets are available into December but weekends are made more difficult by engineering work, which is taking place almost every weekend until Christmas.

“We are making progress though, and by early November we’ll be selling weekend tickets four weeks in advance. We’ll continue to push this booking window further out as quickly as we can.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “As we have been clear, current services on Avanti are unacceptable and, while the company has taken positive steps to get more trains moving, it must do more to deliver certainty of service to passengers.

“Avanti has been given six months to roll out its recovery plan and deliver long-overdue reliability for passengers, advertising tickets for weekend services earlier is an important part of that.

“The short extension is a special measure, which will be used to assess whether Avanti is capable of running this crucial route to a standard passengers deserve and expect.”

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