Louise Haigh has accused Grant Shapps of being “clueless” about how bad disruption is on Avanti West Coast trains after the Transport Secretary claimed that there are four trains running between London and Manchester each hour.
Shapps told BBC Breakfast this morning: “You incorrectly told your viewers there’s only one train running from Manchester to London. That’s not the case, even under the reduced timetable, it’s four trains an hour.”
The Shadow Transport Secretary said: “The clueless Transport Secretary doesn’t have the first idea how bad the disruption he has inflicted on passengers is. Major cities are being cut-off, passengers are battling shockingly bad services, and the man in charge can’t even be bothered to get the basics right.
“Hapless ministers should stop making it up as they go along, do their job and get these vital services restored. They should demand a plan from Avanti to urgently restore these services, claw-back taxpayers’ money being handed over for services that aren’t running, and if they do not act, strip them of the contract.”
Avanti West Coast announced last week that it was cutting the number of trains between London Euston and Manchester from one every 20 minutes to one per hour “until further notice.”
Avanti said the move was necessary to “ensure a reliable service” as the “industrial relations climate” had led to “severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by ASLEF members”.
The train drivers’ union declared last week that there had been no “unofficial action”. General secretary Mick Whelan said Avanti does not employ enough drivers to operate the service fully. He added that the company has admitted that hundreds of trains per week are dependent on drivers working on their rest days.
Avanti was previously found to be the worst-performing rail operator in the country, with almost half of its services arriving late. Over the last two years, the company has received more than 50,000 complaints, more than any other operator.
In addition to slashing services between London Euston and Manchester, the company announced that the number of trains running between Birmingham and London would be reduced by two-thirds, from three trains per hour down to one.
Avanti has also come under fire over a recent incident at Oxenholme station in Cumbria, where passengers were reportedly stranded in a locked station after their train arrived 100 minutes late.
An inquiry into the incident has been launched after it was revealed that passengers had been forced to scale a 7ft spiked fence to exit the station.
Andy Burham told Sky News this morning that Avanti had “run the service down”, failed to recruit and train enough drivers and “destroyed the goodwill that’s there”.
The Greater Manchester mayor added: “If you’re going to run the railway on volunteers… you’re going to have to work hard to keep people with you and work with those drivers, but they’ve completely failed to do that.”
Burnham said Grant Shapps has given the company a “free pass”, declaring: “They can do whatever they like as far as he’s concerned, because they’re parroting his mantra about ‘It’s all the unions’.”
He added: “It’s just not good enough this summer for the government to sit back, do nothing, go on holiday and say: ‘Blame the workers, blame the workers.’
“Ordinary people, who they were clapping last year, and now they’re pointing the finger of blame at them saying it’s all their fault. Well, it’s not all of their fault. This is a management failure. This is a government failure. They should be sitting down today and sorting this out.”