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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Simon Calder

Avanti West Coast boss quits amid mounting chaos

Avanti West Coast

As rail passengers on the West Coast main line continue to struggle with much-reduced intercity rail services, the boss of the train operator has quit.

Phil Whittingham, managing director of Avanti West Coast, will leave the business on 15 September – the day of the next national rail strike – “in order to pursue other executive leadership opportunities”.

Mr Whittingham led Virgin Trains while it operated the franchise on the main line connecting London Euston with the West Midlands, northwest England and southern Scotland.

In December 2019, when Avanti West Coast took over the franchise, he continued in the role.

But Avanti West Coast has been harder hit by unravelling operations than any other major train firm.

At present passengers from London Euston to both Birmingham and Manchester are restricted to just one train an hour each way rather than three.

The firm has blamed “the current industrial relations climate which has resulted in severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels”.

Avanti West Coast added that most drivers had made themselves “unavailable for overtime in a coordinated fashion, and at short notice”.

But Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, told The Independent: “When you lose goodwill and we go on strike, people not then coming into work overtime is the first thing that normally happens.”

The day Mr Whittingham leaves, 15 September, will see what is expected to be the biggest national rail strike in four decades.

Train drivers working for a dozen train operators, including Avanti West Coast, will stop work in support of their pay claim. In addition, 40,000 members of the RMT union will walk out. Only a fraction of normal services is expected to run.

Mr Whittingham, 51, joined Virgin Trains in 1999.

Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail – the major partner in Avanti West Coast, alongside Trenitalia – said: “Having led the team through the challenges presented by the pandemic over the last two years and into the recovery period, Phil leaves with the team ready for the challenges in delivering the future service requirements.

“I would like to thank Phil and wish him well in the future.”

Mr Montgomery “will provide executive leadership support to the Avanti West Coast team” until a replacement is found.

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