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Trains to increase next week – but it ‘may be weeks’ before normal services resume

The number of train services across the north of England is set to increase next week, it was revealed at a meeting of rail chiefs, writes Richard Beecham.

The head of Northern, the rail company that was nationalised earlier this year, told a meeting of the Transport for the North rail north committee that the number of services would rise from 45 percent to 63 percent of normal services from Monday.

However, the meeting was warned that it could be many weeks before train services returned to normal, as Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing rules mean staff have been unable to take part in routine training.

An updated rail timetable is introduced every May, and was originally due to be implemented this weekend.

Nick Donovan, managing director of Northern, said May 18 will see an uplift in services from about 45 percent to about 63 percent in terms of service counts. He said:

“In the past seven weeks, my observations have been that the behaviours of the public who have been travelling have very much changed.

“I am quite encouraged that there is a behavioural change through the core of the travellers, and that will act as a prompt and a  nudge to those who start to travel again.

“There is already an enhanced cleaning regime in place – we need to remain nimble and agile to respond to the situation.

“We are ready to roll – it is a resource-led timetable. We have been stressing internally the resilience and reliability of the timetable as we rebuild it is paramount.”

Information presented to the meeting, entitled ‘restoration of full timetable’, warned:

“There is potentially a different railway in future from pre-Covid-19. Great uncertainty regarding passenger demand and capacity requirements.

“Restoration of a ‘full timetable’ is in effect the introduction of the full new May 2020 timetable (or a variant of it). However, few of the pre-conditions for new timetable introduction are in place.

“Whilst the full May 2020 timetable plan is agreed, successful implementation is dependent upon everything else being in place too – as we saw in May 2018.”

It added that no training or train delivery has been able to continue due to the lockdown and social distancing, adding that it expects to have ‘significant staff shortages’ for weeks.

Mr Donovan added:

“The ability to lift up to capacity across the timetable will take time to get in place – this will happen later in the year. Social distancing may impact the way we run services.”

He also claimed no pacer trains would be in service from May 18, although a number will be kept in storage until the end of the year for contingency, adding: “We are hoping not to use those, but we want to keep them in some form.”

More trains could soon be stopping at Bramley Station.

Government issues travel advice

New guidance published today provides advice on how passengers should make journeys safely, following the publication of the Government’s roadmap and strategy for the next phase of the pandemic.

It urges people to consider cycling, walking or driving to help ensure there is enough capacity for those who need to travel on public transport to do so safely.

As Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated on Saturday, even as public transport begins to revert to a full service, the 2-metre social distancing rule would only leave effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network.

The advice sets out that if people cannot work from home and have to travel for work, they should first consider alternatives to public transport. Those driving their own cars have been asked to avoid busy areas.

For those who have to use public transport, the guidance for passengers on how to travel safely recommends:

  • Keeping 2 metres apart from others wherever possible
  • Wearing a face covering if you can
  • Using contactless payment where possible
  • Avoiding rush hour travel where feasible
  • Washing or sanitising your hands as soon as possible before and after travel
  • Following advice from staff and being considerate to others

All transport operators have been issued guidance on ensuring stations and services are regularly cleaned, making clear to passengers how to stay 2 metres apart where possible in stations, airports and ports, and to ensure routes for passengers are clearly communicated to avoid crowding.

number 42 bus
Bus advice. Photo: FirstBus

To help reduce pressure on the transport network so there is space for social distancing where possible, the Transport Secretary has spoken to train and bus operators and local authorities to ensure they increase the number of available services over the coming weeks.  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: 

“Transport operators and staff have been working hard to ensure that people who need to get to work are able to do so, including crucial NHS workers and all those on the frontline of the fight against the virus. 

“Alongside the cycling and walking revolution we are launching, and clear guidance to passengers and operators published today, we can all play our part by following the advice and reducing pressure on public transport.

“If we take these steps, all those who need to use public transport should feel confident that they can do so safely, with the space to maintain social distancing as far as possible.”

This follows the Transport Secretary announcing a £2bn package of cycling and walking investment on Saturday, which aims to ease the pressure on public transport services by helping more people than ever choose alternative forms of travel.

This included £250million for local authorities in England to create pop up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors.

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