Rail unions have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing serious concerns over the Government’s plans to increase train services as part of measures to ease the lockdown.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the provision more buses and trains would run as part of a staggered approach to easing the lockdown. Currently only about half of normal train services in the UK are running so that essential journeys are possible.
The letter from the general secretaries of trade unions ASLEF, the RMT and the TSSA said that it is unacceptable to put passengers and rail staff at risk.
The unions say they have not seen a plan setting out how it is possible to increase services while also maintaining social distancing. “We call on the government and train operators to work with us in establishing where there is a real demand to increase services and, where that demand exists, how it can be delivered safely,” says the letter, which is signed by Mick Whelan of ASLEF, Mick Cash of the RMT and Manuel Cortes of TSSA.
The union leaders write that they are worried that attempts by operators to increase service levels will sends out a mixed message that it is okay to travel by train, despite official advice suggesting otherwise. “This mixed messaging could be dangerous and lead to the public flouting the rules on travel and work,” they say.
They say there is no agreement on how actually services can be increased whilst protecting workers and passengers. This includes protections through social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). “We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk,” the unions state.
Besides the Prime Minister, the letter was sent to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.
The Government said people should still stay at home where possible. “Our advice is clear that the best way to protect our NHS and save lives is to stay home if possible,” a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson told the BBC. “Our rail system has been carrying key workers and freight around the country since the current restrictions were put in place, however we must ensure the network is ready to respond to a change in demand when these are lifted.”
Eurostar passengers will be required to cover their faces from today (4 May) or risk being refused travel. The rule for travellers to wear face coverings has been introduced in line with guidelines from the French and Belgian governments.
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