Shropshire stranded as daily direct train service to London is cancelled

Shropshire will be without a daily direct rail service to London from Monday, in a timetable change that has drawn condemnation from Labour and Conservative figures in the county.

A council leader has hit out over the changes
A council leader has hit out over the changes

Avanti West Coast has confirmed that its timetable changes, which come into effect from Sunday, mean the cancellation of its daily direct train from Shrewsbury to London.

The firm had previously run two direct trains to the capital every day, but one was stopped during the pandemic and has not been reinstated.

The firm said the decision was the result of a number of factors – including ongoing strike action, increased sickness, and the majority of drivers making themselves unavailable to work overtime.

The cancellation will be in place "until further notice" according to the firm.

The move to stop the direct service has been met with criticism from Labour Telford & Wrekin Council leader, Councillor Shaun Davies, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, Daniel Kawczynski, and Conservative MP for the Wrekin, Mark Pritchard.

Councillor Davies said the announcement had come with no notice, no consultation and no date by which the service will be restored.

He added that the move would leave Telford and Shropshire with no access to a direct service to London.

The decision is likely to ratchet up the pressure on existing Transport for Wales (TFW) and West Midlands Trains (WMT) services, with the latter still operating a reduced timetable, as the third train an hour has still not been reinstated.

It comes amid ongoing strike action which has seen a number of occasions where Telford and Shropshire have been left with no rail services, or extreme reductions in the number of available trains.

The council leader said the move would undermine confidence in rail travel, making it harder for people to use the railway network.

He said: “We are extremely disappointed by Avanti West Coast’s decision to remove the direct Wellington to London and London to Wellington services as part of their new timetable.

“Once again, the people of Telford and Wrekin are forgotten by those outside of the borough. We will continue to fight for our local residents to ensure that they are not disadvantaged like this.

“We are on the side of local people and know that the direct rail service to the capital is important for so many people, for those who need it for work and also for day trippers.

“We have written today to the Secretary of State calling for the Government to urgently review and reverse this decision.

“We support the call from other local government leaders up and down the Avanti West Coast line for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State, their officials and Avanti’s management to agree a date for full restoration of the timetable.”

Mr Pritchard said: "Avanti have, in one ill-advised decision, just lost a huge amount of goodwill throughout Shropshire. This direct London to Wellington service is well-used and blaming staff sickness and rail strikes for withdrawing it is disingenuous at best.

"I am hugely disappointed that Members of Parliament were neither informed nor consulted in advance of the decision and I will be writing to the managing director of Avanti West Coast as a matter of urgency asking Avanti to reconsider this ill thought through decision".

Mr Kawczynski criticised unions over the situation, saying: "I deeply regret this action by militant trade unions who are again bringing significant disruption to millions across our country.

"At this exceptionally difficult economic time for our nation trade union bosses are adding to the economic pain being faced by companies and families."

In a statement earlier this week Avanti called for further talks with unions.

It said: "From August 14 until further notice, we will be introducing a reduced timetable on our services. This is due to the current industrial relations climate which has resulted in severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as the majority of drivers making themselves unavailable for overtime in a co-ordinated fashion, and at short notice.

"As a result of this, customers have faced multiple short-notice cancellations on our network which has had a severe impact on their plans.

"The reduced timetable is being introduced to ensure a reliable service is delivered so our customers can travel with greater certainty. This decision was not taken lightly, and we are sorry for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this will cause.

"We urge the rail unions to engage in meaningful industry reform discussions around modernising working practices and developing a railway fit for the 21st century and we look forward to further talks on this."

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