Avanti West Coast Pendolino at Stockport (Photo: Tony Miles)

UK: Having slashed its timetable to a basic four trains an hour in August as a result of driver unavailability, Avanti West Coast confirmed in late September that it will begin increasing its services again. This will be the first stage in a recovery plan to step up its timetable.

The changes will see AWC adding around 70 extra services a week on its busiest route between London and Manchester, equating to approximately 40 000 extra seats a week on the West Coast Main Line. There will also be additional services on the London – Birmingham route.

From September 27 until early December, up to 10 extra trains a day above the previous timetable will run between Manchester and London on both weekdays and weekends.

The changes will vary across the week with AWC stating that it will run an additional 10 trains on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and six additional trains on Wednesdays. On the Birmingham route, it will introduce four additional trains a day (two in each direction) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Intensive analysis

The company said ‘these extra trains follow an intensive analysis of the number of additional services that can be provided in a reliable and sustainable fashion. They also take account of the significant number of drivers who will be entering passenger service following recruitment and training — nearly 100 between April and December this year.’

It notes that the services are being targeted at the busiest routes and times and are not dependent on overtime working.

AWC said there would be a further uplift in December, which will see the pre-Covd service pattern of three trains an hour restored on the London to Manchester route, an additional service to the West Midlands taking services to/from Birmingham to at least half-hourly, and the return of direct services to North Wales.

AWC states that with further additional services being added to Manchester, Birmingham and North Wales as well as maintaining regular services to Liverpool and Scotland, there will be more than 260 services a day on weekdays overall, compared with around 180 a day before December and 245 in May 2022.

Barry Milsom, Executive Director of Operations & Safety, said ‘we know we’re not delivering the service our customers rightly expect and we apologise for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this is causing.

‘The decision to reduce our timetable in August was not taken lightly but our customers and communities deserve a dependable train service, so we’ve been working hard to rebuild our timetable in a resilient and sustainable way.

‘Resolving this situation required a robust plan that allows us to gradually increase services without being reliant on traincrew overtime. We are now in a position to start delivering this incremental increase in services, followed by a further increase in December.

‘We’ll continue to review our timetable beyond December with our industry partners. We’re working with our people, their union representatives, and industry partners to match the resources we have to demand, so we can deliver reliable services across our network to all our customers and communities.’

Force majeure

On September 25 the Sunday Times reported that AWC had asked ministers to relieve it from some performance target deadlines following the timetable reduction and current driver shortages.

Quoted by several other news outlets, the newspaper suggests that the operator has asked DfT to approve a force majeure declaration which would mean targets would not have to be met and financial penalties not applied.

The procedure is normally used when an operator is unable to control factors such as severe weather which prevent it from meeting contractual obligations. As AWC’s revenue risk is currently effectively now being borne by the Treasury, the move may also avoid the awkward scenario of one government department levying a fine which would impact on another part of government.

Responding to the article, an AWC spokesman said that it didn’t comment on discussions it might be having with the government.