Rail services ramped up as lockdown rules ease in England

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group has said more than 1,000 daily weekday services have been added to timetables since mid-February.

The increase means nearly 18,000 services will run today, when non-essential shops, pub beer gardens and outdoor visitor attractions are among premises allowed to reopen in England. A more significant uplift is planned for May.

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Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the RDG, said: “In addition to enhanced cleaning and providing better information to help people avoid busier times, rail companies are increasing space on trains across the country by adding services as we take steps out of lockdown.

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“We are closely monitoring passenger numbers as restrictions ease to carefully balance service levels with demand, and the need to run the railway efficiently for taxpayers.”

Rail companies are urging passengers to travel at quieter times where possible.

The RDG said an additional 1,500 people have been employed to clean trains and stations during the pandemic, representing an increase of 25%. It calculated that 13,250 litres of cleaning agent is used every month to sanitise surfaces on the rail network.

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Christine Smith, who manages the cleaning of Govia Thameslink Railway trains, said: “We’ve pulled out all the stops to make sure stations and trains are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised many times every day, with extra attention paid to high-contact touchpoints like handrails and buttons. If you touch it, we’ve cleaned it.”

The RDG cited research by watchdog Transport Focus indicating that about 90% of rail passengers making recent journeys felt safe doing so.

Mark Phillips, chief executive of the Rail Safety and Standards Board, said: “As restrictions ease, it is extremely reassuring that rail companies are taking the necessary steps to ensure people can travel with confidence.

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“While research into this field continues, we know that ventilation systems on most trains are effective in replacing air in carriages, meaning transmission may be less likely on trains than in other indoor environments.”

The RDG said the industry is also “working to keep rail staff safe”, with many companies offering lateral flow testing to its workforce to help quickly identify staff members who have contracted Covid-19.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “RMT welcomes the increase in service levels on our railways which is vital to providing the capacity for safe travel as the lockdown eases.

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“At the same time, the industry must take all necessary steps, working with the trade unions, to ensure safety standards do not slip.

“Our priority at all times must be to learn the lessons of the past year and protect the travelling public and the workforce alike.”

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of pressure group Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Getting people back onto public transport is essential to supporting economic growth across the country and avoiding an environmentally damaging car-led recovery.”

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Shannon Butcher

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