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Government suspends all rail franchises


03 April 2020

The Government has suspended all remaining rail franchise agreements for at least six months as passengers desert the rail network in droves because of Covid-19.

The change sees the Government take on the revenue and cost risks for the franchises. 

Franchise holders will continue to run the services for a “small pre-determined management fee”. This is set at a maximum of two per cent of the franchise’s cost base before the pandemic began. The DfT said this would result in “far less than recent profits earned by train operators”. 

The DfT’s operator of last resort companies will step in if any operator does not accept the new arrangements.

Passenger services across the rail network were reduced from Monday 23 March, the day the Prime Minister ordered Britons to stay at home in order to limit the spread of the virus. 

The DfT said rail patronage had dropped by up to 70 per cent by that date. Passenger numbers have fallen further since then and service levels have been cut further in places.  

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Transport for London and Merseytravel have all reduced services too.

Welsh transport minister Ken Skates has announced a package of support for the rail industry worth up to £40m over the next few months.

“This funding will assure the skeleton service we are now operating, and will safeguard the future of rail service operations in Wales and the Borders,” he said.

“We are working closely with our partners in Transport for Wales and TfW Rail Services on the details of the mechanism, which I expect to evolve further over the coming weeks.”

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has cut services on the Merseyrail network, citing not only the Government’s lockdown on movement but the increasing numbers of station, depot and onboard staff who are self-isolating. From 2 April trains will only operate on the network between 07:00 and 19:00 Monday to Saturday and 08.00-19.00 on Sundays, with services every 30 minutes across all lines.

Service reductions have affected all sorts of lines, not just those with high frequencies. The lines from Inverness to Wick and Kyle of Lochalsh have seen their daily train services cut from four each way to two.

Open access operator Hull Trains has suspended all of its services.

 Website shows service cuts

Thousands of passenger train services have been withdrawn across the country as people follow Government orders to stay at home.

The Real Time Trains website documents the reduction in services. The following data shows passenger trains calling or passing stations between 07.00 and 08.00 for three Tuesdays in succession: 17 March (when services were largely unaffected), 24 March and 31 March: 

Clapham Junction: 166 - 114 - 91

London Bridge: 124 - 79 - 59

London King’s Cross: 26 - 13 - 13

Stratford, East London: 81 - 38 - 36

Reading: 60 - 29 - 25

Cardiff Central: 42 - 12 - 12

Birmingham New Street: 58 - 29 - 31

Manchester Piccadilly: 61 - 22 - 23

Leeds: 71 - 47 - 35

Edinburgh Waverley: 50 - 23 - 21

Glasgow Central (High Level): 77 - 36 - 33

Twenty-four hour train count data for four stations shows: 

Swindon: 221 - 116 - 102

Crewe: 487 - 336 - 335

Berwick upon Tweed: 118 - 75 - 53

Inverness: 83 - 51 - 48

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