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Andy Burnham asks to ‘suspend’ first class trains to make more affordable seats available

The Mayor of Greater Manchester met with Avanti West Coast's senior management team yesterday to express "deep unhappiness".

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 18th August 2022

Andy Burnham has asked for first class train services to be “suspended” in talks with Avani West Coast over its recent timetable downgrade.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester met with Avanti West Coast’s senior management team yesterday, alongside the Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, Cllr Luthfur Rahman, and Transport Commissioner, Vernon Everitt, to express their “deep unhappiness” after the train operator announced last week that it would be running on a reduced timetable until further notice.

The company has temporarily suspended ticket sales and slashed services, in a move that has already been significantly affecting trains between London and Manchester.

Train frequencies between the capital and Manchester have been reduced to as few as one per hour, rather than the usual three – with Avanti West Coast saying it’s because of staff shortages caused by “unofficial strike action”.

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Mr Burnham called the move “nothing short of a disgrace” at the time it was announced.

Now, the Mayor has confirmed that he sat down with leaders at Avanti West Coast yesterday and “made clear to them in no uncertain terms our deep unhappiness at the way in which our city-region has been treated.”

Read more: Only 20% of train services running as strike action brings disruption across UK

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He said in an official statement issued following the meeting: “The severe reduction of services at this time of year is seriously detrimental to our economy [and] Avanti’s decision to take this action without any prior consultation or even notification shows a lack of respect for our city-region and its people, businesses and visitors.

“We have asked Avanti to produce a recovery plan that helps passengers in the short-term, but which also commits to providing more trains per hour between Greater Manchester and London as quickly as possible.”

Mr Burnham also confirmed that he has asked Avanti to “consider the declassification of trains” and “suspend first class restrictions” in the immediate term.

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He said this will “make more seats available on the booking system at an affordable price”.

Andy Burnham has asked for first class train services to be “suspended” in talks with Avani West Coast / Credit: Avanti West Coast

On top of that, the Mayor also asked for “clearer communications with customers” about how and when to purchase tickets, an end to the “inflammatory language” – which he said is damaging workforce relations – and, on a broader level, a timetable to return to the previous levels of service as soon “as possible”, as well as “a firm commitment that we will not find ourselves in such a position ever again”.

Read more: Andy Burnham says Avanti West Coast’s timetable slashing is ‘a disgrace’

Mr Burnham has also threatened to ask the government to strip Avanti West Coast of its contract if the plan it produces is not deemed acceptable.

He concluded in his statement: “When we receive Avanti’s plan, we will consider whether it is acceptable for our residents and businesses and, if it isn’t, we made it clear to the company that we will ask the new Prime Minister to strip them of this contract.”

Featured Image – Avanti West Coast