West Midlands Railway services to be halved next week
Rail services will be gradually reduced from next week as demand drops away during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had agreed with rail operators across the country to scale back timetables from Monday as people change their travel habits to help stop Covid-19 spreading.
Core services will continue to run to help people attend medical appointments and allow emergency services and NHS staff get to work.
West Midlands Railway's timetable, which is still being finalised, will equate to just over half the usual weekday level of service, the operator said.
Julian Edwards, managing director of West Midlands Railway, said: “Revising our timetable is the most effective way of making sure we continue to run a regular, reliable service to keep people moving in these exceptional circumstances.
“Like every employer in the country we have a number of our staff currently in self-isolation and attempting to continue with our regular timetable would be impossible.
“Although demand for rail travel has dropped, we know there are many thousands of people who need to keep moving, including NHS workers and others involved in delivering essential public services. That is why our front-line staff will continue coming to work in order to deliver this timetable and help keep the country moving.”
Meanwhile Transport for Wales said it would continue to prioritise peak periods and that its changes would be confirmed from midday on Sunday.
“At Transport for Wales our primary focus is keeping our colleagues and customers safe," the operator said.
"In line with the rest of the UK rail industry, and based on advice from public health bodies, we have taken the difficult decision to reduce weekday passenger services moving forward.
“This timetable has been designed to be as resilient as possible, whilst ensuring we balance a reduction in demand, availability of our people and the need to support key workers such as health, food retailers and delivery teams.
“We will continue to prioritise peak periods in order to ensure we do not create overly busy traveling conditions and will be monitoring the situation on a daily basis to ensure people that need to travel during the period can still travel when absolutely necessary."
Travel demand down
The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the public’s travel patterns has seen demand for rail travel decline by up to 69 per cent on some routes, the DfT said.
The joint move from the Government and rail industry will also enable freight services to continue.
It follows speculation in the industry that a number of train operators are on the verge of being brought under Government control due to plummeting passenger numbers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested to MPs on Tuesday that rail companies, as well as bus firms and airlines, could be temporarily nationalised to help them through the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Shapps said the action was being taken to “protect the public” while still “ensuring keyworker 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,” he added.
Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said the measures would “preserve services so that we can continue to get key workers to where they need to be, deliver food to supermarkets and get fuel to power stations”.
He added: “This is not a decision we take lightly, however implementing these measures now will mean that we can continue to operate trains over a prolonged period with fewer railway workers, who like so many others are to be commended for putting the needs of the country first, and whose safety remains front of mind.”
Passengers are advised to check the National Rail Enquiries website before they travel.
The announcement came after public transport operators had already started slashing services due to the coronavirus.
Train, coach and bus frequencies are being cut amid the collapse in demand and Government advice on avoiding non-essential travel.
Northern Trains, South Western Railway, Govia Thameslink Railway and Great Western Railway said they were suspending or cancelling some services due to staff illness or to protect customers and employees.
Transport for London said it will close up to 40 London Underground stations until further notice while the Night Tube, which normally operates on Friday and Saturday nights, has been suspended.