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In December, Avanti West Coast will be decreasing the number of its services due to staff shortages, resulting in fewer weekend train frequencies on one of Britain’s primary intercity lines leading up to Christmas.
Following the operator’s nine-year contract awarded by the government after being given notice to enhance its performance, Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, characterized the news as “a kick in the rear.” The decision has been confirmed.
Avanti plans to scale back on trains operating between London, Birmingham, Manchester, and North Wales, including running only two trains per hour on Saturdays in December between the capital and Manchester.
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In 2022, the company was running fewer than one train per hour on its primary intercity routes after acknowledging that it could no longer adhere to its schedule due to a shortage of drivers.
Although Avanti has since recuperated – to the extent that ministers deemed it fit to reappoint the First Group-Trenitalia joint venture to manage the service in the long term, after two short-term extensions – it still requires the cooperation of drivers who have not yet fully recovered. This has resulted in a staff shortage due to their refusal to work on their remaining days.
The timetable cuts in December are a proactive measure for the period when drivers’ holiday requests and illnesses are anticipated to be at their highest, and for services where no tickets have been sold yet.
An Avanti spokesperson stated: “From December 9 to December 31, we will be removing some services from our timetable in order to provide a more reliable service for our customers and reduce unplanned, last-minute cancellations. “This is a temporary measure and we apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers.”
The company recently refurbished its Pendino fleet, adding more seats overall, and asserts that it still has enough capacity.
The news came in the same week that TransPennine Express confirmed it would be reducing 20 trains per day starting in December as part of an effort to “reset” the service. Direct trains between Leeds and Manchester will be reduced from four per hour to three. This decision has caused anger among northern civic leaders following Rishi Sunak’s choice to abandon the northern portion of the new HS2 rail line between Birmingham and Manchester.
Burnham stated that Avanti “should have remained on probation.”
He said: “The people of Greater Manchester deserve a stable, predictable rail service between here and London. It is simply not acceptable that, once again, it is being cut and altered in this manner.
“This decision will significantly reduce service levels between Manchester and London during the critical period leading up to Christmas, affecting the number of tourists visiting the city and making it more difficult for people to return home to visit their families.
“This is not how a railway should be operated, and our city-region deserves better. It’s one setback after another.”
Some passengers encountered significant delays on Friday due to factors beyond Avanti’s control, including the closure of the line north of Preston due to flooding from Storm Babette.