Rail services to be reduced as demand plummets during coronavirus crisis

Avanti will join other rail companies in reducing services across the UK rail network from Monday (March 23), with just 1 train every hour on the West Coast Main Line between London and Preston/Lancaster.
Avanti will join other rail companies in reducing services across the UK rail network from Monday (March 23), with just 1 train every hour on the West Coast Main Line between London and Preston/Lancaster.

British rail services will be gradually reduced from next week as demand drops due to 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.

The coronavirus pandemic's impact on the public's travel patterns has seen demand for rail travel decline by up to 69% on some routes, the DfT said.

From Monday (March 23), Avanti West Coast will reduce the number of services running on its West Coast Main Line.

Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow (which serves Preston and Lancaster) services to and from London will run just once every hour.

Avanti also said it will no longer be accepting cash on board its services or at ticket offices.

But the Department for Transport said core services will continue to run to help people attend medical appointments and allow emergency services and NHS staff get to work.

The joint move from the Government and rail industry will also enable freight services to continue at full capacity.

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.

Running reduced services will also help protect the welfare of frontline railway staff, the DfT said.

Changes to timetables will be kept under review, with there being a gradual move to widespread service reductions in the longer term.

To minimise disruption, services will be progressively cut back over the coming days, the DfT said.

Mr Shapps said the action was being taken to "protect the public" while still "ensuring key workers 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".

Passengers are advised to check the National Rail Enquiries website before they travel, he said.