Coronavirus: Some rail services could be axed as passenger numbers fall by a fifth

‘There’s no point in running ghost trains,’ says transport secretary Grant Shapps ​– who also hints at bailout help for airlines during outbreak

Adam Forrest
Monday 16 March 2020 11:25 GMT
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Some of the UK’s rail services could be axed due to the coronavirus outbreak after the number train passengers fell by a fifth over the past week, according to the transport secretary.

Grant Shapps said he would meet rail companies this week to discuss how they manage the “big drop off” in users, suggesting they could be allowed to run less trains frequently to prevent so many “ghost” carriages.

“The railways have definitely seen a big drop off ... last week by about 18-20 per cent in the number of passengers,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked if the companies could be freed from some of their franchise obligations, Mr Shapps suggested it was possible timetables could change to allow for reduced services.

“It’s quite clear it’s an exceptional international moment in time, an international crisis, and we need to be flexible … I’ll be driven by, amongst other things, the demand. There’s no more point in running ghost trains any more than there is running ghost planes.”

The cabinet minister added: “We’re working with them all to see what it is we need to sustain them. Obviously people still need to be able to travel, to an extent. Some of [the planning] is about how many trains are put on at any one time.”

Earlier in March, the government estimated one-fifth of the population may be off sick from work at the peak of the virus, but Mr Shapps’ figures appears to suggest one-fifth of regular trains commuters are already working from home.

Mr Shapps is also holding a crisis meeting with airlines companies this week. He claimed there were “lots of different options” available to help the aviation industry.

He told Sky News: “We want to make sure that companies and individuals and organisations who are in a good state – not those that are going to fail anyway – are able to continue.”

Asked if a bailout of airlines was on the table, Mr Shapps said: “There are lots of different options here, including some other things that people have been looking for, for example HMRC offer a ‘time to pay’.”

Easyjet is the latest airline to ask for state aid to support carriers whose sales have effectively fallen to zero.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren, said: “European aviation faces a precarious future and it is clear that coordinated government backing will be required to ensure the industry survives and is able to continue to operate when the crisis is over.”

Flight schedules have been slashed by British Airways’ parent company IAG and easyJet due to coronavirus.

IAG revealed that its capacity for April and May would be cut by “at least 75 per cent” compared with the same period in 2019. EasyJet said it has made “further significant cancellations” and warned that the “majority” of its planes could be grounded in the future.

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