Northern leaders call for commitment to post-COVID-19 rail operations
Leaders across the North of England have highlighted the importance of restoring passenger confidence in rail in order to ensure post-COVID-19 stability.
Credit: Transport for the North - David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North
Political and business leaders across the North of England have highlighted that the people and businesses of the North need to have confidence in the region’s transport network over the coming weeks, months and years in order to support economic recovery through and post-COVID-19.
At the Transport for the North (TfN) board meeting on 11 June 2020, leaders discussed the importance of getting the re-introduction of frequent rail operations right, and also the need for a Northern infrastructure pipeline of road and rail schemes over the next 20 years.
In the immediate future, the safety of rail staff and passengers must come first, and increasing operations must not put reliability at risk, they said in a discussion around rail operations in the North. They made a united call for clear advice and communications for passengers returning to public transport as restrictions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic begin to ease – in particular, with regard to the use of face coverings.
Members heard from Network Rail, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Transport Focus and the Chair of the Operator of Last Resort overseeing Northern on how the rail industry has reacted to the lockdown and social distancing restrictions of the past few weeks, and how they are planning for an increase in services whilst also keeping staff and passengers safe.
The meeting heard that:
- Collaborative working has been the key to keeping the railways open for key workers and freight
- Efforts to keep staff and passengers safe through social distancing and cleaning and hygiene measures are being continually enhanced – for example, with vending machines for face coverings being installed and new antibacterial sprays for surfaces and equipment being introduced
- Clear and consistent communication has been a vital tool to help give those passengers making essential journeys confidence
- In response to comments about the potential use of volunteers, Northern representatives reassured members that they would not deploy volunteers without consultation with staff
- Northern, and the industry, will also consider how to tackle potential constraints to introducing longer trains – constraints include station capacity, platform lengths and staff resources.
Members highlighted several key issues during the subsequent discussion, including:
- Planned increases in train numbers in July and September 2020 shouldn’t put the stability of rail services at risk
- The continuing need to help passengers and staff stay safe whilst reinforcing the messaging around making essential journeys only and not using public transport wherever possible
- The importance of ensuring that services continue to meet passenger needs as lockdown measures are lifted and that reliability and stability are not compromised.
David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North, said after the meeting: “The impact on the rail industry when lockdown measures were first introduced was significant, and the challenges have continued as the situation evolved in the past few months.”
He added: “Based on the successful implementation of a new key worker timetable in May 2020 and ongoing efforts to keep staff and passengers safe and informed, operators in the North are well-placed to meet the next challenges around further uplifts in services and increasing passenger numbers. But it’s vital that, through the North of England Contingency Group, we continue to work together to put passenger needs and staff safety first throughout COVID-19 recovery plans.”
Also discussed during the meeting was the plan for Northern leaders, through Transport for the North, to write to Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, to outline the region’s Economic Recovery Plan. The proposal will contain “quick win” road and rail schemes that will support the people and businesses of the North in the coming months and years. It will also reiterate that the North’s leaders must have committed funding and increased devolution to ensure that the region gets the investment it needs and deserves.