GNER relents on no-reservation passengers at Christmas - but they'll have to stand

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The Independent Online

Great North Eastern Railways has announced what passes for good news in our rail industry. Last-minute passengers will, after all, be able to walk onto their trains, despite last week's "no seat reservation, no travel" warning to Christmas travellers.

Great North Eastern Railways has announced what passes for good news in our rail industry. Last-minute passengers will, after all, be able to walk onto their trains, despite last week's "no seat reservation, no travel" warning to Christmas travellers.

GNER, still operating at 40 per cent of capacity nearly six weeks after the Hatfield crash, says it announced the estriction to avoid chaos during the busy period between Thursday, 21 December and 3 January.

But last week the company was forced to admit that "walk on" passengers will not be stopped from boarding - if they don't mind standing. A spokesman said. "All we are trying to say is it is going to be really busy and if people want to make it simple for themselves they would be far better booking ahead. We wouldn't recommend that they leave it to the last minute or leave it to chance. We are trying to spread demand over the limited number of trains we have available."

The other three long-distance operators - Virgin, WAGN and First Great Western - are also advising passengers to make reservations for holiday journeys. But GNER, which runs services to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh, is the only one to make them "compulsory".

Most regional operators claim their trains will be little affected by the holiday period, with only slight additional delays and, according to Railtrack, 90 per cent of services will be running as normal. There will, however, be a sizeable reduction on the main west and east coast lines, run by Virgin and GNER respectively, which take the bulk of the extra traffic. Virgin and GNER services will be only two-thirds of the normal for the period.

GNER is scheduling three extra trains an hour in the run-up to Christmas instead of the usual five. "We usually carry 45,000 people a day in the run-up to Christmas but will only have capacity for 20,000," a spokesman said.

Virgin expects to run three trains an hour from London Euston to the Midlands, North-west and Scotland instead of the usual six. It fears that demand could be more than 20,000 a day over its capacity.

Virgin is reporting that passenger numbers slipped by a third at the height of the rail chaos in November, but have recovered since.

Rail companies argue that, because Christmas falls on a Monday, the demand for travel will be spread over the previous three days rather than concentrated on Christmas Eve. But the main passengers' voice, the Rail Passenger Council, condemned the disrupted holiday service as "appalling". Railtrack will be taking advantage of the Christmas period to press ahead with checks on rails. The company's chief executive, Steve Marshall, said yesterday: "We have got a huge programme over Christmas. A lot of the 20mph speed limits have already been raised - over half of them - and that will continue."

He said rail services would be "85 per cent of the way back" to normal by the end of January. Passenger Power will monitor that progress.

If you have a story to tell, write to Passenger Power, Independent on Sunday, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Or email passengerpower@independent.co.uk

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