Coronavirus: Rail services to be increased as travel restrictions ease

A woman leaving St Pancras International station wearing a maskImage copyright In Pictures / Getty Images

There are plans to increase train services from Monday 18 May across Britain in preparation for the eventual easing of travel restrictions.

The move will ensure the railways are able to cope with a rise in passengers when some people return to work.

Rail bosses and government sources told the BBC that services will be increased to about 70% of the normal timetable.

At the moment, only half of normal rail services are running due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Adopting a new timetable and reintroducing more trains requires a lot of planning, so preparations are being made for an increase to – on average – around 70% of the full timetable.

Rail bosses say staff shortages within the industry due to illness or people self-isolating means the new timetable is the maximum level of service they can provide.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are examining a range of options on how transport can respond to support the recovery in a timely way when the time comes and it is safe to do so.

“We continue to prepare for any scenario we might be asked to support.”

Resources are likely to be focused on urban commuter lines, rather than long distance intercity routes.

While services will be increased, this does not mean that large numbers of people will be returning to work on 18 May.

‘Still many questions’

The easing of travel restrictions is likely to be done gradually – the government has suggested that working hours might be staggered to limit passenger numbers.

If maintained, two-metre social distancing measure would cut capacity on trains by up to 90%, so managing any increase in the number of commuters will be a real challenge.

Transport campaigners said retaining customer confidence in the network beyond the pandemic would be vital, but there are still many questions about how this will be achieved.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Will everyone be required to purchase tickets in advance? Must all seats be pre-booked? Does social distancing still apply? Is PPE necessary or required?

“There are questions that passengers will want to know the answer to and the industry should be make clear before lockdown ends and the rail network seeks to ramp up,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a speech on Sunday which may lead to some relaxation of lockdown rules.

The RMT union said some members of the rail industry had been asked to prepare for a possible rise in passenger numbers on Monday 11 May, following the speech.

However, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “We are examining a range of options for how transport can respond to support the UK’s recovery in a timely way but that this will only be done when it is safe to do so and would be done in preparation for, not in anticipation of, any change in advice.

“The Business Secretary has been engaging with unions, and DfT has been working with transport unions, on their concerns and we want to ensure that services are safe for both customers and those who operate them.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are examining a range of options on how transport can respond to support the recovery in a timely way over the coming weeks, when the time comes and it is safe to do so. We continue to prepare for any scenario.”,


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