King's Cross Station

COVID-19: Rail companies will ‘support’ passengers voluntarily wearing masks

King's Cross Station

Rail operators have pledged to support passengers who continue wearing face coverings if they become voluntary.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said “wearing a mask helps protect others”, but demand that any relaxation of the rules around their use indoors must apply to trains.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Monday that face coverings and social distancing will no longer be required from the final step of the Government’s road map out of lockdown, due to take place on July 19.

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An RDG spokesman said: “Trains should be treated consistently with other indoor settings when it comes to the removal or ongoing use of restrictions.

“Travelling by train is low risk and carriages are well ventilated with air regularly refreshed either by air conditioning systems, or by doors and windows being opened, so any decision to leave public transport behind other parts of the economy would need to be based on the science.

“Of course, train companies will continue with extra cleaning and better information about how busy services are, and given that wearing a mask helps protect others, we would also support people who wished to continue wearing one in future if it becomes voluntary.”

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Even if the Government eases the rule on face coverings on public transport, operators could make them a condition of carriage.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: “I struggle to see how ministers can drop the requirement to wear masks on public transport without causing real problems for some people who are dependent on it.

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“Those more vulnerable to infection or anxious about it will be put in a very unfair position. Rethink needed?”

The situation in London is complicated by the Government’s recent bail out of Transport for London (TfL), and the fact many passengers use a combination of TfL services and mainline rail.

A spokeswoman for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “On the continuing wearing of face masks, it is important that we continue to follow the science around the extent to which they limit transmission on transport and in busy indoor spaces.

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“Evidence shows that the wearing of face masks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.

“People feeling confident they can travel on our Tubes, buses and trains as they get busier will be a vital part of encouraging more people into central London as restrictions are lifted further, and it is something that we will continue to look at closely.”

Trade union Unite, which represents tens of thousands of public transport workers, called for face coverings to remain mandatory on public transport.

The union’s national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “To end the requirement to wear masks on public transport would be an act of gross negligence by the Government.

“Rates of infection are continuing to increase and not only does mask-wearing reduce transmissions, it helps provide reassurance to drivers and to passengers who are nervous about using public transport.

“The idea of personal responsibility and hoping that people will wear masks is absolutely ridiculous.”

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), claimed that “yet again there’s a real danger of the Government making up policy on the hoof on critical issues”.

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Sam Hewitt

Let off some steam...