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Rail Services: North of England

Volume 724: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2022

Members will be aware that, in July 2022, Avanti West Coast experienced an immediate and near total cessation of drivers volunteering to work on passenger trains on rest days. In response, it has had to reduce its timetable to provide greater certainty for passengers.

Similarly, TransPennine Express services continue to be impacted by the loss of rest day working, higher than average staff sickness levels, and historically high levels of drivers leaving the business.

The current rail services in the north have therefore been unacceptable, and on November 30 I met with the northern Mayors in Manchester. In that meeting, we agreed that the rail industry is not set up to deliver a modern, reliable service, and that we need both short-term and long-term measures to address this.

As a short-term measure, Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express have both been rapidly increasing the number of drivers they employ. This is helping Avanti restore the services that it was forced to withdraw. Services increased in September, and have now increased to 7 trains per hour, restoring the full Manchester-London service. It is therefore disappointing that passengers will not see the full benefit of these changes until the current wave of industrial action is over. I was pleased to see the RMT call off the strike action scheduled for Avanti West Coast on 11 and 12 December, as sustaining this level of service will require the support of the trade unions.

I have also given TransPennine Express and Northern the scope they need to put a meaningful and generous rest day working offer to ASLEF. However, giving operators a mandate is only the first step. ASLEF needs to enter negotiations, and put any new deal to its members and, if accepted, do all it can to make that deal work. TransPennine has made a generous revised offer to ASLEF and it was almost immediately rejected without being put to members. It is up to the unions to decide if they want to improve services, for the good of passengers and the wider economy in the north.

Today, the RMT is on strike across the country again, disrupting services and driving passengers away from the railway. In my meeting with the Mayors, we all agreed on the need for a reliable railway seven days a week. That means not having fragile rest day working agreements and breaking the railway’s dependence on rest day working altogether. No modern and successful business relies on the good will of its staff to deliver for its customers in the evening and at the weekend. I want a railway with rewarding jobs, contracted to deliver every service promised to the public. I want to encourage passengers back to a financially sustainable railway.