Business and local authority leaders from North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester in the Growth Track 360 partnership are urging the UK Department for Transport (DfT) to remove the contract to operate West Coast passenger rail services from Avanti West Coast Ltd. following the withdrawal of all direct trains between North Wales and London.
There is currently only one direct service per day between London, Chester and Wrexham whilst a shuttle service links Crewe and Holyhead via Chester.
When implementing service reductions across its West Coast network in August, Avanti claimed that these were due to the industrial relations climate, severe staff shortages, increased sickness levels and the majority of drivers making themselves unavailable for overtime in a coordinated fashion and at short notice.
Growth Track 360 is a public-private partnership established in 2016 uniting North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester. Its goal is improving cross-border transport connectivity with specific emphasis on rail. The group made representations to the UK Rail Minister of State in August, urging pressure be placed on Avanti to restore – at least partially – direct services between London, Chester and North Wales but the company has made no progress.
Growth Track 360 Chair, Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “We were dismayed and disappointed at the cessation of all direct intercity train services between North Wales, Chester and London with just one train per day linking Chester and Wrexham with London. These cuts have caused incalculable damage to our cross-border regional economy during the peak holiday season. Avanti has shown itself right from the outset of its franchise simply not to be up to the task of managing its business affairs competently, so the UK Government – as its ultimate customer – should cancel the West Coast operating franchise immediately.”
Leader of Flintshire Council and Vice Chair of Growth Track 360, Councillor Ian Roberts, said: “Civic leaders in North Wales and neighbouring communities in North West England have worked hard to build a collaborative relationship with Avanti but their management’s actions show they regard our Chester and North Wales main line as an unimportant branch. It is shocking to realise that the same company has been tasked with introducing passenger train services onto HS2. The UK Department for Transport must get a grip of the crisis at Avanti West Coast by placing its routes under the control of the public sector Operator of Last Resort which has handled well similar failures by operators in other parts of Britain.”
Growth Track 360 Business Representative, Ashley Rogers, Chief Executive of the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council, said: “We cannot stand by whilst our North Wales and Mersey Dee tourist destinations brace themselves for the next holiday season without the prospect of even a partial return of the full London, Chester and North Wales timetable of direct train services. UK Government has to stand up for our cross-border regional economy and our businesses. An immediate change of management is needed for the West Coast Mainline, otherwise our region continues to pay the price with lost economic growth when we need it most.”