Avanti West Coast, the train operator, will be discontinuing nearly 20 services every Saturday on the route between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly until the year’s end. Their initial plan involved canceling two out of every five trains on this popular route starting from December 9. However, the reduced schedule will now commence immediately, as reported by the Sunday Times newspaper. Avanti attributed this decision to a shortage of train crew and ongoing industrial disputes.
Avanti West Coast, jointly owned by First Group and Trenitalia, typically runs approximately 50 services, which translates to about three trains per hour during peak times, on weekdays between London and Manchester. Similarly, there are a similar number of services on Saturdays, but as of next week, this will be reduced to just 30 trains. Avanti is actively working to minimize the disruption experienced by passengers.
Train operators are bound by contractual obligations to keep service cancellations below a certain threshold, and failing to do so can result in fines and even the potential loss of their contract. In some cases, temporary reductions in services, known as “short-term planning arrangements,” may be approved by the government, and such cancellations do not officially appear in statistics. While Avanti has not explicitly confirmed seeking such an arrangement, the Department for Transport has acknowledged that the planned timetable reductions until January 1, 2024, align with the contractual requirements of Avanti.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport stated, “Despite progress since last year, Avanti still needs to further improve and we continue to hold it to account for matters within its control. Traincrew shortages, linked to train drivers on average £60,000 salaries refusing to work overtime, highlight the need for modernization across the wider railway that is being resisted by unions. The temporary timetable changes were necessary to minimize short-notice cancellations due to traincrew shortages and to accommodate engineering works that will maintain and improve the resilience of the network.”
An Avanti West Coast spokesperson expressed regret over the short-notice cancellations and assured customers that they are working diligently to reduce these disruptions. However, the union representing train drivers, Aslef, criticized Avanti’s actions, with its general secretary, Mick Whelan, stating, “Avanti West Coast is yet again letting passengers, and the taxpayer down. The problem is the company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it is contracted, and has promised, to run. Avanti West Coast needs to do the right thing, by staff, by passengers, and by the taxpayer.”