Half of train services could be slashed in third national lockdown

LaToya Harding
·2-min read
Eurostar train carriages stand at empty platforms at St Pancras International station in London on December 21, 2020, after all services to Europe were cancelled as a string of countries banned travellers arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a  more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - The British government is set Monday to hold a crisis meeting of its COBR emergencies committee after a string of countries banned travellers arriving from the UK and crucial transit country France blocked most freight. (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP) (Photo by NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)
The extent of the cuts are yet to be confirmed but as railways is a devolved matter it will only apply to services in England. Photo: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images

Rail services are set to be slashed during England’s third lockdown, with ministers reported to be planning to cull up to half of pre-pandemic service levels.

The extent of the cuts are yet to be confirmed, but the government is reported to be planning to reduce timetables to 50% or 60% of pre-virus levels. Similar reductions were made during the first nationwide lockdown last year.

Ministers are said to be finalising a new emergency timetable aimed at reducing the number of ghost trains as people adhere to the prime minister’s stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

People have been told to avoid public transport as part of the third national lockdown. The move also forced the closure of schools across the country and some non-essential retailers previously open in certain areas, including gyms, pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers.

As rail policy is largely devolved, the changes will only apply to services in England.

WATCH: England enters fresh lockdown

The changes are expected to echo the “Sunday-plus” service first introduced in March last year, the Daily Telegraph first reported. However, reducing the current service levels may take as long as two weeks, with reports suggesting the reduced service will continue for three months.

A DfT spokesperson told Yahoo Finance UK the government will work with rail operators to assess the right level of services provision.

"While we cannot predict the long-term effect of Covid-19 on travel patterns, it is critical that we ensure the railway can respond quickly to changes in passenger demand whilst supporting economic recovery."

Officials are also in the process of developing a new system which would see companies paid a fixed fee for operating trains, with the government collecting the revenue.

READ MORE: Extra £2.1bn to keep train services running

Operators have taken a significant hit to revenue from slumping passenger numbers, forcing the government to step in.

Transport for London’s (TfL) income nosedived by 90% between March and July last year. Meanwhile, the company’s costs were still running at a staggering £600m a month during lockdown.

In September, London mayor Sadiq Khan said TfL would require as much as £5.7bn over the next 18 months if the capital’s transport system was to outlast the health crisis.

That same month the government scrapped rail franchising, which have been in place since the 1990s.

In a statement at the time, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: "The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working."

The government has been contacted for comment.

Watch: Why is the UK struggling so much against COVID-19?