Avanti passengers ‘pay more for less’, MPs told as minister says improvements are ‘up to the unions’

Transport Secretary says improvements are in hands of unions as MPs hear of ‘toxic combination’ of problems on West Coast and TransPennine services

Rail passengers in the north of England are paying more money for fewer services amid an ongoing crisis on the region’s trains.

Anthony Smith, of passengers’ group Transport Focus, told MPs that customers on Avanti West Coast had ended up paying more for their tickets because of the reduction in services meant fewer low-cost options were available.

Speaking to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, he said: “Passengers on Avanti have experienced the rather unpleasant effect of there being a much-reduced timetable – therefore less services to choose from – but the prices have effectively gone up. Both the prices of advanced tickets and the requirement to often actually have to buy a full-price anytime or off-peak return, which can be very expensive.”

Mr Smith said disruption in the North has been caused by a “toxic combination” of problems. Avanti West Coast has suffered from difficulties training enough drivers and a “quite serious breakdown” in relationships between workers and managers, he said. He also dscribed industrial relations at TransPennine Express as “very corrosive”, telling MPs this has “clearly undermined” the company’s ability to provide a reliable service.

Lord McLoughlin, who chairs Transport for the North, which advises the Government on the region’s transport needs, told the committee that reliability is “the greatest problem the companies have to address”. He continued: “There has been a total let-down with unreliable services, not being able to get tickets, not knowing whether services are going to run, and also getting that information out.”

Many of the problems have been blamed on staff declining to work extra shifts on their days off.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said it was “up to the unions to decide” if they want train services in northern England to improve. The Cabinet minister claimed he gave TransPennine Express and Northern “the scope they need to put a meaningful and generous” offer on rest-day working to drivers’ union Aslef.

Passengers on Avanti West Coast services have faced widespread cancellations and delays
Passengers on Avanti West Coast services have faced widespread cancellations and delays
Passengers on Avanti West Coast services have faced widespread cancellations and delays

In a statement to Parliament, Mr Harper wrote: “Aslef need to enter negotiations and put any new deal to its members and, if accepted, do all it can to make that deal work.“TransPennine has made a generous revised offer to Aslef and it was almost immediately rejected without being put to members.

“It is up to the unions to decide if they want to improve services, for the good of passengers and the wider economy in the North.”

Mr Harper published the statement as passengers faced another day of services across Britain being slashed due to a strike by RMT members at Network Rail and train companies.

Richard Scott, director of corporate affairs at the West Coast Partnership – which includes Avanti West Coast – said the operator’s introduction of a new timetable on Sunday featured a 40% uplift in services. He said: “All of our principal routes are having more services now – strikes aside – than they would have had (before) the problems in the summer.”

TransPennine Express managing director Matthew Golton said “we’ve let customers and communities down” but insisted there is a “very strong pipeline” of trainee drivers. He said a return to rest-day working would “make a material difference to our progress”.