Train operators are increasing the number of trains they run, and lengthening them where possible, to help get the country moving again as lockdown eases.
From 12 April, non-essential retail, personal care and hospitality businesses will reopen in England, and overnight stays, along with long-distance travel, will again be permitted.
To get people moving, more than 1,000 weekday services have been added since mid-February from approximately 16,900 per day to almost 18,000. An even more significant service uplift is planned for May. Some trains are also longer, making social distancing easier.
Robert Nisbet, director of Nations and Regions for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry said: “In addition to enhanced cleaning and providing better information to help people avoid busier times, rail companies are increasing space on trains across the country by adding services as we take steps out of lockdown.
“We are closely monitoring passenger numbers as restrictions ease to carefully balance service levels with demand, and the need to run the railway efficiently for taxpayers.”
Rail staff are working hard to ensure that stations and trains are also kept clean. 1,500 additional people have been employed to clean the railway during the pandemic, an increase of almost 25% since March last year, and 13,250 litres of cleaning agent are used every month to sanitise surfaces across the network.
Surveys undertaken by the independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus have consistently shown that around 90% of people making train journeys in the past two weeks feel safe doing so.
Christine Smith, who manages the cleaning of Govia Thameslink Railway trains, explained: “We’ve pulled out all the stops to make sure stations and trains are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised many times every day, with extra attention paid to high contact touchpoints like handrails and buttons. If you touch it, we’ve cleaned it.”
The rail industry is working to keep rail staff safe in turn, with many operators incorporating lateral flow testing for rail staff, enabling them to identify any staff member who may have contracted COVID-19 more quickly and to protect other members of staff.
Interestingly, the EU Agency for Railways has stated that ventilation systems on trains, which renew the air in a carriage at least every ten minutes, are important to extract harmful aerosols, including coronavirus. This suggests that trains may be safer than some other indoor settings.