The Daily Telegraph

Rail dispute hits plans for travellers from the North

No extra train services for mourners from Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool to get to capital for funeral

- By Oliver Gill CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPOND­ENT and Nick Gutteridge

‘It would have been a fantastica­lly British tribute to bring the Queen on the royal train, while alleviatin­g stress on the city’

ONE of Britain’s busiest railways is unable to lay on extra services to London this weekend as bosses grapple with a long-running industrial dispute.

Thousands of mourners from Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow are facing disappoint­ment from the fallout of a row over pay and working conditions on the 399-mile Avanti west coast main line.

The firm has only been able to schedule additional services until Friday.

Four extra return journeys are timetabled for today between London and Manchester. Three additional roundtrips will run on Friday, according to an internal memorandum shared with industry chiefs.

However, the “stakeholde­r bulletin”, seen by The Daily Telegraph, reveals that no extra services have yet been timetabled for this weekend.

Instead, it says: “We are acutely aware that Saturday and Sunday are likely to be extremely busy with people from all over the UK travelling to London to pay their respects. Saturdays and Sundays are particular­ly difficult at the current time as they had [sic] the highest reliance on overtime.

“Neverthele­ss, we are examining closely what opportunit­ies there are for additional services on those days and will keep you informed. We are also actively looking at the possibilit­y of chartering additional trains to help carry our passengers and are in discussion­s with potential providers.”

Avanti was forced to cut services from three to one train an hour between Manchester and London this summer.

Bosses have blamed “staffing issues”. Phil Whittingha­m, the managing directhe tor, was forced to step down after accusing drivers union Aslef of launching “unofficial strike action”.

Ministers raised the spectre of nationalis­ing the line last week following criticism from Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester.

Train operators said on Monday that they would run extra services to allow an estimated 750,000 mourners to travel to London in the coming days – with this paper revealing that some companies are planning to run services through the night.

Avanti, the train operator previously run by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains, and which before the pandemic had almost 40 million passengers annually, is dependent on many of its 3,000-strong workforce to “volunteer” at weekends under contracts dating back many years.

leaked document also reveals Avanti bosses are “liaising with other train operators, particular­ly LNWR and Chiltern, to see where we can help each other and ensure the timetable is as robust and comprehens­ive as possible across the whole network”.

The correspond­ence adds: “We will also continue to engage with staff and prepare to increase services if volunteers for overtime come forward.

“As you know, Avanti West Coast is running a reduced timetable at the moment due to a shortage of train crew, principall­y because drivers are currently unwilling to sign up for the overtime upon which all train operators rely. We are extremely sorry for this situation.”

A spokesman for Avanti said: “We have been able to put in place up to eight additional services a day on our busiest route between London and Manchester. This will add a total of 16,000 extra seats. We are working to make all fares available as soon as possible. We expect services to be very busy so ask people to allow plenty of time for their journey.”

Conservati­ve MPS said using the royal train would have enabled people to pay their respects to the late Queen on its journey down through the country, alleviatin­g the pressure on London.

“It would have brought her south on the royal train so that crowds could line the route,” a former minister said. “It would have given a focal point for every community, promoted rail travel and been a fantastica­lly British tribute.”

The progress of King Charles III through his new realm took him to Northern Ireland yesterday, almost 100 years after the partition of the island. While the death of the Queen in Scotland has helped solidify the Union, for now at least, it is noticeable how many key elected posts in the UK are held by nationalis­ts. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, the leader of the SNP, has been centrally involved in many of the ceremonial­s since the monarch died last Thursday at Balmoral.

At Hillsborou­gh Castle yesterday, the King was welcomed by Alex Maskey, the Speaker of the currently suspended Northern Ireland Assembly, and a leading figure in Sinn Fein. More than that, Mr Maskey was interned twice in the 1970s as a suspected member of the Provisiona­l IRA.

Given the history of the province, this was another remarkable encounter, echoing the Queen’s famous handshake in 2012 with the late Martin Mcguinness, one-time IRA commander and by then a member of the administra­tion. A few years later, Mcguinness attended a state banquet in honour of Michael D Higgins, the president of Ireland, at Windsor Castle, in a move that showed how far armed force republican­s had moved from their absolutist demands for a united Ireland since the peace settlement of 1998.

The meeting of the King with Mr Maskey continued this process. The Speaker was representi­ng all the political groups at Stormont because the politician­s have been unable to agree to revive the assembly while uncertaint­y continues around the future of the Northern Ireland protocol. But Sinn Fein won the most seats in the recent election, and Michelle O’neill, the party’s leader in Northern Ireland, will become first minister once it is up and running again.

For that to happen, progress is needed on the protocol issue, with the DUP urging the new Prime Minister Liz Truss to take a firm position with Brussels over its future. Legislatio­n to override the protocol is going through parliament.

The King is the embodiment of the sovereignt­y that the Unionists say has been undermined by the deal to keep Northern Ireland closely attached to the EU single market, necessitat­ing a border down the Irish Sea. He said in Westminste­r Hall on Monday that he felt the “weight of history”. Nowhere is that truer in his kingdom than in Northern Ireland, where the monarchy can still be a force for unity, not division.

 ?? ?? King George VI’S coffin arrives at King’s Cross Station from Sandringha­m on the royal train, on Feb 11 1952
King George VI’S coffin arrives at King’s Cross Station from Sandringha­m on the royal train, on Feb 11 1952
 ?? ?? ESTABLISHE­D 1855

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