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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Lamiat Sabin

Manchester passengers brace for a weekend of disruption amid Avanti train cancellations

Phil Noble/Reuters

Manchester is bracing itself for a weekend of travel chaos as one firm to be affected by a strike has cancelled services and slashed its timetable.

Avanti West Coast will not have any of its trains in service on Saturday 13 August, due to train drivers’ industrial action, and will operate a reduced timetable on Sunday “until further notice”.

It has advised its customers not to travel during what it said would be a “weekend of misery”.

Services between London Euston and Manchester are expected to be the worst affected by the reduced timetable, with trains whittled down from three per hour to one.

The 24-hour walkout over pay and conditions will also affect CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

Avanti West Coast trains will operate reduced services for the foreseeable future (Stuart Walker)

Meanwhile, Britons up and down the country will be looking to spend the hot and sunny weekend on day trips or attending events, including a number of Premier League matches in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London.

At Manchester Piccadilly station, passengers and pedestrians spoke to theManchester Evening News (M.E.N) about the upcoming strike action.

Passenger Lin Chisling said: “It is going to be a nightmare and these train companies are still making millions. It is easier for us using the train for pleasure as we can book in advance, but those who need to catch services at certain times will really be hit by this.

“Trains will be packed and the services will become so uncomfortable.”

An Aslef flag on a picket line at a previous strike by the train driver members (PA Wire)

Sylvia Unczur told M.E.N: “I believe in striking as I am from the old days. I believe people should be able to stand up for their rights and for good working conditions and fair pay.

“You can’t imagine what these workers have been through, but at the same time, this disruption is affecting so many people, especially those who use the trains for work.

“It’s not nice and will cause tension, especially over summer. Fewer trains mean people will be rammed on like sardines and people will struggle to get to where they need to go, but I can see it from both sides.

“My train to Manchester was delayed coming up and the rail system is just a right mess. It needs bringing back into public control.”

Amid the looming travel chaos, London mayor Sadiq Khan and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have branded Avanti West Coast’s decision to slash its timetable, and to give no date as to when it will be restored, as “completely unacceptable”.

In a letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps this week, they also said Avanti West Coast’s claim that the strike is “unofficial” is “completely disingenuous”, adding that “drivers are completely entitled to choose not to work on their rest days.”

The Labour mayors also criticised the company’s “complete failure to manage rostering and rest day working” for the train drivers as a “national outrage”.

Mr Shapps also received a letter from train drivers’ union Aslef to question him over his “repeating of the unfounded lie” of Avanti West Coast that the strike action was “unofficial”.

General secretary Mick Whelan wrote: “It is nothing short of a disgrace that a secretary of state for transport should parrot these lies.

“These unfounded comments risk the welfare of our members and increase the risk of abuse. I therefore ask that you publicly correct your previous statements and check that any statements you make about our members in the future are, in fact, true.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan [L] and transport secretary Grant Shapps (PA)

The claim of the “unofficial strike” was made by Avanti West Coast’s managing director Phil Whittingham in a letter to the rail industry, in which he says the company’s customers are told “not to travel” and refunds can be claimed.

Mr Whittingham wrote that the “current industrial relations climate” has resulted in “severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by Aslef members”.

He added: “Yet again our customers will bear the brunt of industrial action and will face a weekend of misery as a result.”

The Department of Transport said it has “endorsed” Avanti West Coast’s approach to cut down its timetable.

A spokesperson said: “People deserve certainty and confidence that their train will run on time, and while this move was unavoidable, it should minimise the fallout for passengers.

“This is a prime example of why we need to modernise our railways, so that passengers benefit from reliable timetables which don't rely on the goodwill of drivers volunteering to work overtime in the first place.”

Next weekend will also be affected by a number of transport strikes.

On Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August, members of the unions RMT, TSSA, and Unite will strike over pay, jobs and conditions in action that will affect Network Rail and 14 train companies.

On Friday 19 August, workers on London Underground are set to stage a 24-hour strike and London Overground workers employed by Arriva Rail London will stage a separate walkout on the same day.

In west London, more than 1,600 bus drivers will walk out on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 August from the Fulwell, Hounslow, Hounslow Heath, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush, Stamford Brook, and Tolworth depots.

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