Trains cancelled as major outbreak of Covid-19 virus sweeps through rail company sparking fears of Christmas chaos for passengers

York train station

Passengers face disruption over Christmas due to a major outbreak of coronavirus among railway staff.

GWR said one in four Plymouth-based train drivers who were supposed to be working over Christmas are either ill or self isolating after coming into contact with a colleague who tested positive. More than 50 staff are out of action overall – 10 per cent of staff based in Devon and Cornwall.

The company, whose routes include London Paddington to Cornwall, has already started making cancellations. Passengers are being moved to alternative services where possible, raising fears these could be congested.

Bosses were holding crisis talks yesterday amid fears that the number of staff missing over Christmas could rise further as more contacts are identified.

Sir Peter Hendy, the Christmas transport tsar, said passengers making new bookings with GWR would be prompted to use coach services instead.

‘GWR are not currently anticipating being able to run the service that they thought that they would,’ he told MPs yesterday.

‘In consequence if you do try to book an advance ticket to the west of England, I’m hoping their website will tell you to go to National Express because actually they’re not currently wanting to take any more advance bookings.

‘That’s a consequence of the transport industry not having an unlimited supply of people. There still will be some trains but they are right not to book people on trains they don’t think they will have any drivers for.’

Sir Peter urged Christmas travellers to book their tickets early and avoid long-distance journeys.

He played down predictions of chaos, claiming 80 per cent of journeys would be by road.

Long-distance operators including Avanti and LNER have made a large proportion of their trains reservation-only. However, smaller operators running local services have been unable to introduce complex reservation systems.

It means travellers who turn up on the day could face disappointment. It also raises the potential for congestion in ticket halls.

December 23 and December 27 are expected to be the busiest days, with Boxing Day more subdued than in previous years.