COVID-19: Train passengers suffer one of the worst periods on record for cancellations

Disruption to rail services has reached record levels due to staff shortages. File pic

2022-01-17 20:01:00

Rail passengers have suffered one of the worst periods of cancellations on record due to staff shortages caused by the COVID pandemic, new figures have shown.

It comes as hundreds more daily services have been cancelled as train companies continue to introduce measures to deal with the ongoing spread of coronavirus.

As the Omicron variant spread across the country, it was estimated around 10% of rail staff were unable to go to work.

Around 4.4% of services across Britain were cancelled between 12 December and 8 January, according to Network Rail.

Only two other four-week periods have had poorer reliability since April 2014, analysis of industry data by the PA news agency found.

Most operators decided to introduce emergency timetables with fewer trains to increase reliability.

Avanti West Coast, c2c, East Midlands Railway and South Western Railway became the latest firms to adopt the measure on Monday, cutting hundreds more daily services.

Customers told to check for updates

Customers are being advised to check for updates before setting out on their journey, or sign up for automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me.

The chief executive of the passenger watchdog Transport Focus, Anthony Smith, said: “While the introduction of reduced timetables is a pragmatic response to help boost reliability, passengers have faced significant delays and disruption.

“Operators must continue to protect first and last services to meet the needs of those who have to travel.

“Passengers need punctual, reliable services and will want to see normal service resumed as soon as possible.”

Rail fares to rise by 3.8% in March in biggest increase since 2013

Provisional Department for Transport figures show demand for rail travel was at 55% of pre-pandemic levels early last week.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said: “During the Christmas period we focused on running as many trains as possible to get people to their loved ones, but this meant more short-notice cancellations as our staff, like those in other sectors, were being affected by the Omicron variant.

“The introduction of temporary timetables in recent weeks has ensured a more reliable service, with cancellations over the last seven days below average, ensuring our passengers have a service they can rely on.”

Network Rail picture showing the Parsons Tunnel work site in Devon with sleeper services set for disruption
A Network Rail picture showing the Parsons Tunnel work site in Devon with sleeper services set for disruption

London-Cornwall sleeper trains disrupted

Meanwhile, overnight sleeper trains between London and Cornwall will be cancelled between Mondays and Thursdays for eight weeks due to a complication with engineering work.

Network Rail said disruption to Great Western Railway’s Night Riviera service begins next week, with the normal timetable not resuming until 21 March.

A 209-metre long shelter is being built on a stretch of track between Dawlish and Holcombe, Devon, to improve protection from falling rocks.

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