Rail firms defend decision to axe hundreds of trains

Photo: PA Media

Rail firms have defended their decision to axe hundreds of daily trains amid coronavirus-related staff shortages.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) industry body said the introduction of emergency timetables with reduced frequencies would create a more reliable service and fewer short-notice cancellations.

It added that the move would also provide “better value for taxpayers” by reflecting the reduced demand for travel.

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Operators ran “as many services as possible” in the run-up to Christmas to support festive travel, according to the group.

But several firms have now cut the number of trains after working with the Government to create amended timetables because around 10% of rail staff are absent from work.

The new schedules focus on peak travel times to provide trains for key workers, school pupils and people who cannot work from home.

ScotRail implemented a temporary weekday timetable this week, cutting more than 150 daily services.

Southern is not serving London Victoria until next week, while CrossCountry has removed around 50 trains a day from its timetables.

A number of other operators are also running reduced services, including London North Eastern Railway, Greater Anglia and TransPennine Express.

RDG’s director of people, operations and railway strategy, Susie Homan, said: “The temporary timetables that rail companies are putting in place, with Government support, will help ensure more reliable services with fewer short-notice cancellations so that we can continue to get people and goods to where they need to be.

“The Government has supported the railway with over £15 billion since the start of the pandemic, and it makes sense to better match the number of trains that are running with the number of people travelling, so that the industry gets the most out of every taxpayer pound and doesn’t take more than its fair share of public money.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Amending timetables is a pragmatic response to rising staff illness if it prevents chaotic last-minute cancellations.

“But services must still meet the needs of those who have to travel, especially key sector workers.

“Operators must protect first and last services, provide enough space to keep passengers at a safe distance from each other, and flexibility so that tickets can be used on alternative routes or times.”

Rail firms urged passengers to check for updates before setting out on their journey or sign up for automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me.

The latest Department for Transport figures show demand for rail travel is at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

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