Avanti crisis deepens as city leaders say cuts are a ‘national outrage’

City and business leaders on the West Coast Main Line have sent a letter of protest to transport secretary Grant Shapps after Avanti West Coast said it was cutting back its timetables, with trains on most lines running once an hour at best from Sunday. There will be very few services on Saturday because ASLEF will be on strike.

Avanti has apologised, but is blaming high levels of staff absenteeism and ‘unofficial strike action’ by drivers, and said it was trying to provide a reliable service.

However, the Mayors of London and Manchester and the leader of Manchester City Council have signed a letter to the transport secretary which describes the short notice changes as ‘completely unacceptable’, and says they would ‘damage some of the UK’s largest and most important economic and cultural centres’. Manchester Pride and the Notting Hill Carnival would be affected as well as sporting fixtures and visits to attractions for which people travel between the two cities.

The letter said: ‘Our cities rely heavily on the West Coast Main Line and this unilateral withdrawal of services, on the basis of what appears to be a complete failure of Avanti’s senior management to manage rostering and rest day working, is frankly a national outrage’. It calls on Mr Shapps to take action, so that a date can be agreed for ‘full restoration of the timetable’. It adds that if Avanti declines to attend a meeting with them and the transport secretary then Mr Shapps should start the process of withdrawing Avanti’s operating contract when the current arrangement ends in October.

Avanti West Coast said the cutbacks were being caused by ‘the current industrial relations climate, which has resulted in severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by ASLEF members. As a result of the majority of drivers declaring themselves unavailable for overtime our customers have faced multiple short-notice cancellations on our network which has had a severe impact on their plans.’

The operator also apologised for the ‘enormous frustration and inconvenience’ the reduced timetable would cause and urged the unions to ‘engage in meaningful industry reform talks around modernising working practices and developing a railway fit for the 21st  Century’.

The RMT has already condemned the cutbacks, alleging that ‘Avanti are falsely and shamefully making allegations that this decision is due to unofficial industrial action when the reality is this decision arises from poor management, cutting staffing to the bare minimum and rock bottom staff morale’.

source= http://www.railnews.co.uk/news/2022/08/10-avanti-crisis-deepens-as-city.html