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Rail capacity will be cut to a tenth, warns transport secretary

TRANSPORT SECRETARY Grant Shapps has predicted that the ability of railways to carry people will be cut to a tenth of their pre-pandemic capacity.

His warning came as he urged people to walk or cycle wherever possible and announced a £2 billion investment to improve capacity for cyclists and pedestrians, by such measures as widening pavements and introducing more cycle lanes.

He explained: ‘As we begin the process of preparing public transport to get Britain moving again, no-one should underestimate the sheer scale of the challenge ahead. Even with every train, bus and tram fully restored to service – this will not be enough.

‘Social distancing measures mean that everyone who travels will need to contribute to meeting this capacity challenge.’

His speech on Saturday was followed last night by an update from the Prime Minister, who said that people who could not perform their jobs at home should return to work from today, but avoid public transport if possible.

The rail unions, meanwhile, remain opposed to an increase in service levels, which has been predicted from next Monday, 18 May.

There has been no confirmation of this so far, although Network Rail is known to be preparing for various possibilities, but RMT general secretary Mick Cash warned: ‘RMT will not compromise on the health, safety and livelihoods of our members and we will not agree to anything that fails to put the safety of staff and passengers first. If that means advising our members not to work under conditions that are unsafe and in breach of the government’s and industry’s own guidelines then that is exactly what we will do.’

The Government is also facing criticism today for the lack of detail.

Writing in The Times this morning, columnist Jim McMahon commented: ‘We owe our transport workers and other key workers a great debt: they have kept the country moving in the most difficult of circumstances.

‘But thanks and praise are not enough: we also need the government to come up with a realistic plan of what life outside the lockdown looks like.’

There has been no statement yet about future services from the Rail Delivery Group.

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