Rail companies and public transport networks around England have deployed new measures to prevent overcrowding as more people return to work this week.
Services have been increased up from around 50 per cent of the standard timetable to 70 per cent, but capacity onboard is reduced to as little as 10 per cent of normal levels to enable social distancing.
More officers and security guards trained to control crowds will be at some stations to prevent passengers from boarding a train or entering a platform if too many people are already present.
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The changes come as the Government urged people in England to go to work if they cannot work from home, as part of the gradual easing of the coronavirus lockdown. Transport operators were asked to increase services, but also to rearrange, remove or limit seating “to try and ensure social distancing is observed”.
Advice in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales remains that people should stay at home.
Some long-distance operators have introduced reservation-only policies, which means even passengers with flexible tickets will have to choose in advance which service they will use.
Other measures being considered may include blocking off seats in close proximity with others and removing face-to-face seating.
On the London North Eastern Railways, passengers can only board a train if they hold a reservation as well as a ticket. Passengers are asked to sit in a window seat, with one person per row of four seats and two empty rows between each passenger.
Avanti West Coast warned passengers may not be able to travel without a reservation due to limited capacity. Northern has said there will be “significantly reduced capacity on each and every one of our trains”.
Will Rogers, managing director at East Midlands Railway, said: “We urge everyone to only go by train if it is necessary and keep public transport for key workers and those who must travel.”
Transport for London identified 20 tube stations they expect to be especially busy and have warned commuters to expect long queues or to avoid completely between 05:45 – 08:15 and 16:00 – 17:30. Some stations, such as Clapham Junction, have implemented one-way systems enable social distancing.
Commuters throughout the country are also being advised to wear facial coverings for any travel on public transport.
Network Rail chief executive Sir Peter Hendy told BBC Breakfast: “Passengers are sensible. This is a national crisis of unprecedented proportions. We are relying on people to be sensible.
“We want people to stay apart if they humanly can and if they can’t, then a face covering is a quite sensible thing to do for the brief moments when you might be getting on or off a train or moving through a station.”
But the Rail, Maritime and Transport union described the increase in train services as a “high-risk strategy”.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We are opposed to the early relaxation of lockdown measures and believe that non-essential workers should avoid using trains. When people absolutely must use a train there should be compulsory protections.”
The union called for compulsory wearing of face coverings by passengers, which should be provided for free at stations and be able to be disposed of safely, and the enforcement of two-metre social distancing on trains.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said the message remained that people should only go to work if they cannot work from home and they should avoid public transport if possible and maintaining social distancing if they have no other choice.
“We have asked operators to increase the number of services from today to help reduce pressure on the transport network, providing more space for social distancing as well as delivering increased reliability and extra capacity for the future,” he added.
Additional reporting by agencies
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