The railway industry has faced many challenges since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, now running at only 72% of its normal capacity, according to the Rail Delivery Group. During the lockdowns of 2020, trains were operating at 87% of normal levels.
The latest reduction in services reflects the ever-decreasing number of passengers travelling by rail. Currently, morning and evening peak services are given priority to aid key workers. Many timetables have already been reduced, while others are to be changed over the coming weeks.
The RDG says it makes more sense to reduce services when fewer passengers are travelling, as it provides better value on franchised rail services that are subsidised by the taxpayer.
The situation with reduced numbers of passengers is unlikely to change over the next few weeks, with no end to the latest lockdown in sight. More people are still working remotely, or being furloughed, and everyone is urged to avoid unnecessary travel. The RDG has said rail services are being amended in a way that will allow normal services to be restored as quickly and smoothly as possible when the restrictions are eased.
Leisure travel is prohibited under the terms of the lockdown, which began on 5th January 2021, so the only people travelling on trains are key workers or passengers who need to make journeys deemed essential, such as for medical appointments, or to care for a vulnerable person for whom they are responsible. Network Rail is urging people to travel by rail to work only if they can’t work from home, or for other legally permitted reasons.
On the London Underground, Transport for London has temporarily reopened the old Thameslink line that has been closed for 22 years. Passing through central London between Bedford and Brighton, it is aimed at allowing passengers more options to travel safely, in larger trains that can help them to maintain social distancing.
People must not travel by train if they are showing any symptoms of Covid-19, even if they haven’t been tested. Similarly, the same rules apply if you live with someone who has symptoms of the virus, or if you’ve been in contact with someone showing symptoms.
As well as the financial challenges of declining passenger numbers, the railway industry has had to cope with the other difficulties of the pandemic, such as making practical changes to adhere to safety guidelines.
Anyone travelling by rail in England, Scotland and Wales must wear a face covering for the full duration of their journey on public transport in England, Scotland and Wales. Anyone who removes their mask could be fined up to £6,400 if they refuse to put it on again.
Cleaning and sanitising
People are also reminded to wash their hands frequently for around 20 seconds each time and to travel at quieter times if they absolutely must venture out. Passengers should carry hand sanitiser and wash their hands before and after the journey.
When possible, book your ticket online in advance and get it on a mobile or Smartcard. Keep your distance from other passengers and staff, as social distancing should be maintained on trains, as well as at stations.
New one-way systems have been introduced at rail stations, with clear signs to help passengers avoid crowding. The fixed seating has also been moved around to allow people to sit comfortably and safely while they wait.
In addition, special deep cleaning regimes have been put in place, both at stations and on trains. Cleaning staff disinfect everything people might touch, from screens to handrails, multiple times a day. Toilets are treated with virus blockers.
Studies have found rail operators are using 44 times more cleaning products than they would in normal circumstances, including antiviral sprays.
There is only a one in 11,000 chance of catching Covid-19 on a train, according to two separate studies into the spread of the virus.
A study by the Rail Safety and Standards Board based its results on a scenario of 44 passengers travelling together for 30 minutes, with 22 passengers alighting and being replaced by 22 different people, who travel for a further 30 minutes.
Further research by German train operator Deutsche Bahn found “little or no evidence” that Covid-19 had been caught on a train journey. It said there had been “remarkably few infections” on trains. None were recorded among passengers who had been on board for less than 10 hours. In Germany and Austria, not one person has been identified through contact tracing as having been potentially infected on the journey.
Studies also found the infection rate in air-conditioned railway carriages, with good ventilation, was lower than in vehicles without air conditioning. The research concluded the airflow in carriages with aircon was essentially vertical, rather than horizontal, making the “direct distribution of the virus” through airflow “unlikely”.
Keeping railway air conditioning well-serviced and maintained is another barrier against spreading the coronavirus. High-performance AC systems routinely exchange inside air with outside air to help keep train carriages fresh.
According to research by TER, the climate inside air-conditioned railway carriages averages 40% outside air and 60% inside air, with the whole volume of air exchanged around every eight minutes – continually filtered and exchanged throughout every journey using high-performance ventilation systems for enhanced safety.