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Timetables trimmed as travel falls away in virus emergency

Updated 09.00

RAIL timetables are being trimmed in some areas as the demand for commuter services falls, with many people now working from home in response to government advice about coronavirus risks.

Tyne & Wear Metro timetables are being reduced from today. Nexus customer service director Huw Lewis said: ‘We are withdrawing Metro’s additional peak services so that passengers can be sure when trains will run, rather than face sudden cancellations should we see a reduction in available staff.

‘Fewer people are using Metro now following public health advice, and the move by universities in the region to online teaching. There will be enough Metro trains to meet demand, although passengers may have to wait a few minutes longer.’

Transport for Greater Manchester has warned: ‘Rail services will start to be reduced over the coming days,’ although for the moment trams are continuing to run normally. It added: ‘TfGM will continue to work closely with operators to ensure those that need to travel can still do so safely.’

Transport for West Midlands says it is working to keep public transport moving, saying that ‘despite a significant drop in use and the obvious staffing challenges due to the virus, transport bosses are committed to making sure services for key workers and those who rely on public transport to reach health, community, and educational facilities are still operational’.

TfWM said it is in regular discussion with rail and bus operators to make sure the region is as well covered as possible.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street added: ‘Although the Government has been clear that people should avoid public transport and work from home where possible, for many this is simply not an option – particularly key workers who are doing the most phenomenal job on the front line.

‘I have therefore instructed all TfWM staff to focus their attention on keeping public transport functioning, and making sure those services that do run are safe and clean. Through the RTCC and our strong working relationship with operators, I am confident we will be able to continue to run public transport services so long as the Government allows.’

Eurostar has reduced its timetables, with fewer services running between London and continental destinations. Only passengers with EU or UK passports or residence permits are being allowed to travel, and all catering has been suspended on board.

National Rail trains are still running normally, but transport secretary Grant Shapps is holding talks with franchise managers this week about relaxing some of their obligations during the emergency. He has said that there was no point in running ‘ghost trains’, but people still needed to travel, while it was also important to keep the franchises themselves going.

Transport for London has yet to announce any formal timetable changes, but the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said TfL services would soon be reduced to weekend levels as demand continues to fall.

Transport commissioner Mike Brown added: ‘We and our staff are doing everything we can to ensure that people who need to make essential journeys can continue to do so.

‘Part of that involves matching service levels to the actual demand for travel. That work is under way and will evolve over time.’

TfL has also warned that the decline in passenger numbers is likely to cause a revenue deficit of up to £500 million.

TfL chief finance officer Simon Kilonback said: ‘We can manage the impacts on our passenger numbers and finances that are currently envisaged. But, given the nature of the situation, we will be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support.’

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