UKs train network reduced and franchises suspended for six months to tackle coronavirus


Train services across the UK are being reduced from today as the country tackles the coronavirus pandemic.

The changes come after customer demand for rail travel fell by up to 69% on some routes since the prime minister issued advice to stop all non-essential journeys.

Key services will still be running to make sure people can get to work, travel to medical appointments and goods will be transported.

Train companies say reducing the number of trains in service will give more time for extra cleaning on board and in depots, as well as more targeted cleaning at stations.

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said in an announcement last week: “We are taking decisive action to protect the public which means reducing travel for the time being, whilst still ensuring key worker heroes can get to their jobs to keep this nation running.

“For passengers in crucial roles, including essential workers in our emergency services and NHS, alongside people who need to attend medical appointments or care for loved ones, these changes protect the services they rely on.

“Our railways are at the heart of this country’s transport links, and we continue to work closely with the industry to develop measures that protect operators in these challenging times.”

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said it would be monitoring demand for services closely in the weeks ahead and would adjust timetables accordingly.

Its director of nations and regions, Robert Nisbet, said the measures were being taken in a time of “extraordinary national challenge”, adding: “This is not a decision we take lightly.”

South Western Railway acknowledged that it is “a difficult time” for passengers but urged people to follow official advice.

Transport for London is also reducing the frequency of services across its network across the capital from Monday.

However, Downing Street has said there is “zero prospect” of restrictions on travel in and out of London.

Similar measures are being implemented in Scotland and Wales.

For passengers in Scotland, there will be one service per hour to and from London and Glasgow which will call at regular stations including Oxenholme, Penrith and additionally at Crewe.

A small number of services will call at Lockerbie and Motherwell at key times.

People are being advised to check the National Rail Enquiries website before they travel.

Meanwhile, Eurostar has slashed its timetables due to demand collapsing.

The Cross-Channel rail operator was running just 10 trains on Friday last week, compared with its usual schedule of 56.

The reduced timetable consists of three trains between London and Paris and two between London and Brussels, in each direction.

No services will operate between London and Amsterdam, Disneyland Paris or the French Alps.

Meanwhile, rail bosses have warned that the reduction in passenger train frequencies does not make it safe to walk across tracks as it means more freight services can operate, and electricity powers overhead cables and third rails 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The warning comes as schools across the UK close their doors to most pupils due to COVID-19.

Allan Spence, head of public and passenger safety at Network Rail, said: “Easter holidays and the clocks going forward are the start of the peak for railway trespass.

“With schools now closed for an extended period, I’m really worried that the railway will become an irresistible but catastrophic playground for young people.