Passenger nightmare over Avanti West Coast bookings ‘could put them off trains for good’ – Transport Focus

Booking problems being suffered by passengers at one of the biggest cross-Border rail operators could put them off train travel for good, an industry watchdog has told The Scotsman.

Independent passenger body Transport Focus’s warning came as transport minister Jenny Gilruth was due to meet the UK Government tomorrowover the situation, which has left travellers unable to book on Avanti’s weekend trains between Glasgow, Edinburgh and London as little as four days in advance.

The operator, run by Aberdeen-based First Group and Italian firm Trenitalia, significantly cut its services last month as part of a pay dispute after it said the number of staff volunteering for overtime – on which its timetable depends – “fell dramatically”.

Train drivers’ union Aslef claimed Avanti’s managing director Phil Whittingham had been fired last month over the issue.

Avanti West Coast operates between Glasgow Central and London Euston and Edinburgh-London services via Birmingham. Picture: The Scotsman

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The company is being temporarily run by First Rail managing director and former ScotRail managing director Steve Montgomery.

Despite Avanti’s Scottish services being unaffected by the timetable reduction, its website stated yesterday that bookings for trains on Saturday were not expected to open until thisafternoon.

Bookings for Sunday are not expected to open until tomorrow afternoon, with no dates provided for when bookings for subsequent weekends would open.

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Passengers have been unable to book for Avanti West Coast more than a few days in advance. Picture: Luciana Guerra/PA Wire.

Avanti trains connect Scotland’s two largest cities with London via the west coast main line and via Birmingham.

Transport Focus senior stakeholder manager Robert Samson said: “Avanti’s temporary timetable was due to reduce chaotic last-minute cancellations and give passengers certainty.

"Passengers are still facing cancellations, overcrowding and poor information online.

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“This disruption is having a huge impact, potentially putting large numbers of people off using the train for good.

"Avanti must do better in ensuring that the timetable it offers is delivered reliably and that it provides better information to all passengers.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency: “We understand the concerns around Avanti West Coast services, including their booking system and their current reduced timetable.

"Whilst the number of services into and out of Scotland remain largely unaffected, there are substantial reductions elsewhere.

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“Whilst officials continue to engage with Avanti West Coast, and are regularly updated, detailed monitoring is a matter for the Department for Transport (the UK Government).

"The transport minister intends to raise this matter directly with the UK Government this week.”

Aslef said Avanti “does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it has promised passengers it will run”.

The union has announced more strikes at the company and 11 other England-based operators for Saturday, October 1 and Wednesday, October 5.

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Avanti said tickets were being released “later than we had hoped” because it was having to finalise the reduced timetable at short notice.

It said delays to tickets being available would “continue for upcoming weekends, where our network may be impacted by engineering work, and different iterations of the timetable are required”.

Its spokesperson said: “Customers can currently buy tickets for weekday Avanti West Coast services up to October 21.

"Some train times will need to be adjusted when we finalise our timetable. However, customers won’t lose their tickets or seat reservations and we’ll notify them if their train changes.

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"We sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.”

Avanti has said Mr Whittingham left “to pursue other executive leadership opportunities”.

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