Last Monday, the train operating company Avanti took the decision to inflict a drastically reduced timetable between Manchester and London. The decision – made without any consultation with local leaders – means that for the time being just four trains an hour will run from London Euston to Manchester, with just one per hour in the other direction.
To say this decision came as a shock is an understatement. It will damage tourism, throw major cultural events into disarray, and have a devastating impact on our respective economies.
Avanti’s reason for taking this unilateral action is equally concerning. They’ve blamed the disruption on “unofficial strike action” by ASLEF, the train driver’s union. This reason just doesn’t stack up. Official strikes are planned nationally for Saturday, but apart from that there is no further action planned. In fact, all that train staff are doing is refusing to work overtime – something that is absolutely their right.
Instead of the management of Avanti admitting that they haven’t trained enough staff and have failed to adequately plan for the summer months, they’ve played the age-old trick of blaming workers.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, have written to the Government demanding action. I couldn’t agree more. Avanti must meet with local leaders, explain what on earth is going on, and set a date for when full service will resume. If they can’t do that, then they’re not up to the job and the Government needs to withdraw their contract.
This mess has reinforced my belief that to truly transform our public transport, we need to nationalise our railways and put the public back in control of our bus network (something we’re already working on here in Greater Manchester). This would drive down prices, improve services, and mean that we no longer have to deal with rail companies making reckless decisions based on greed and poor planning.
So far, the Government have remained tight-lipped on Avanti’s actions, instead preferring to sit back and watch while a vital transport link is weakened between London and Manchester. Maybe the Secretary of State needs reminding that Manchester is one of the fastest growing employment centres in the United Kingdom and contributes more than £82bn to the UK Economy. Yet again, we’re being treated as an afterthought by a Government that sees ‘levelling up’ as a useful political phrase, rather than a coherent policy programme.
Enough is enough. It’s time we got a grip of our transport infrastructure and made it fit for the future.