Manchester trains to Leeds and London cut ‘to improve reliability’

Mind the gap: fewer Avanti West Coast trains will run between London Euston and Manchester in December (Avanti West Coast)
Mind the gap: fewer Avanti West Coast trains will run between London Euston and Manchester in December (Avanti West Coast)

After Rishi Sunak cancelled plans for High Speed 2 to run to Manchester, rail passengers in the city are now facing winter cuts on two key inter-city routes: to London and Leeds. Train operators say the service reductions are necessary “to improve reliability”

Starting on 9 December, for the remainder of 2023, Avanti West Coast will cut some trains from its timetable “to enable us to run a more reliable service for our customers, and minimise unplanned, short-notice cancellations”.

The train operator is facing multiple challenges including historic annual leave agreements that assume drivers will be willing to work on days off, combined with toxic industrial relations.

On Saturdays only two trains per hour will run between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly, rather than three.

The train operator says: “This is a temporary measure and we’re sorry for any inconvenience to our customers.”

Along with all the major English train operators, Avanti West Coast is involved in long-running disputes over pay and working arrangements with the two main rail unions, the RMT and Aslef.

Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, representing train drivers, said: “Avanti West Coast has consistently let down rail staff and the great British public. The announcement that they will now cut services during the festive period is a shameful gift to give passengers this Christmas.”

Avanti West Coast will remove all peak time restrictions from 22 December to 7 January, meaning off-peak tickets can be used on any service.

From December, the TransPennine Express link between Manchester and Leeds will reduce from four trains per hour each way to three. The hourly fast train taking just 49 minutes between Manchester Victoria and Leeds is being axed. The quickest journey between Liverpool and Newcastle will be extended by 22 minutes.

In a document named Making Journeys Better: Our plan for the future, the state-run train operator says: “From mid-December ’23 we’ll run a slightly reduced timetable as this will enable us to improve reliability, trust and confidence.”

The cuts will last for a year, the train operator says. From December 2024 it expects “robust and reliable increases in services”.

TransPennine Express was taken back into public ownership in May 2023. The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said that under previous ownership by FirstGroup the rail firm had made “continuous cancellations”.

It is one of14 train operators waiting to see if the rail unions will call further strikes in the disputes that have bit hit by regular industrial action since June 2022. The last walk-out by members of Aslef was on 4 October.

Earlier this month members of the RMT voted 90:10 in favour of more industrial action, on a turn out of 64 per cent. The general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “If no new offer is forthcoming, we will once again take strike action in defence of our members’ livelihoods.”

Last year, the RMT took industrial action over Christmas and New Year, with five multi-day strikes between 13 December and 7 January.