THE three main rail unions have written a letter of protest to governments in England, Scotland and Wales, and also to the Mayor of London, as plans to run more trains in the near future become clearer.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has repeated his proposal that working hours should be staggered, so that trains carrying people to work would not be so full. Mr Shapps first mentioned this on 20 April.
At the time, he said: ‘Actually why does everyone have to get up and travel during the rush hour at a particular time in the morning? Why don’t we have more distance through the day?’
This now seems to be gaining more official acceptance, as a leaked plan to ease the country out of lockdown has emerged, which includes staggered hours and continued encouragement to work at home.
It has been reported that train timetables could be strengthened two weeks from now, with up to 80 per cent of the previous service restored.
This has yet to be confirmed by the government or the industry. Although Network Rail has said it is considering varius scenarios, it added that the government will decide the next steps.
The unions, meanwhile, see more trains as a fresh source of risk. Their joint letter says: ‘The government’s advice around the lockdown – that staying at home helps save lives, and that only key workers should travel on public transport when absolutely necessary – remains unchanged. During the period of lockdown, service use has dramatically fallen. This has undoubtedly helped the UK to contain the pandemic.
‘We have severe concerns over attempts by operators to increase service levels. First, it sends out a mixed message that it is okay to travel by train – despite official advice suggesting otherwise. This mixed messaging could be dangerous and lead to the public flouting the rules on travel and work.
‘Second, there is no agreement on how actually services can be increased whilst protecting workers and passengers.
‘We are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.
‘We therefore call on the government and operators to work with us in establishing where there is a real demand to increase services and where that demand exists, how it can be delivered safely.’
Ministers are legally obliged to review the current restrictions no later than Thursday this week.