Fewer passengers could force rail companies to seek government help

The number of passengers on trains fell by 20% last week alone. Picture; STEVE W

The number of passengers on trains fell by 20% last week alone. Picture; STEVE W - Credit: Archant

Train company Greater Anglia has seen a significant fall in passenger numbers over recent weeks as the coronavirus crisis hits with more commuters working from home and fewer people taking leisure trips.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the number of passengers had fallen by 20% last week. The fall in passengers mirrors issues faced by rail companies across the country – which has led to a meeting being called between industry bosses and the government to discuss what support some companies might need from Whitehall if the fall in fare revenue pushes them into debt.

Greater Anglia is one of many companies that rely on a mixture of commuters, business users, and leisure travellers for its income. Generally those companies with the highest reliance on commuters are likely to be in the best position to ride the coronovirus crisis – commuters travel with season tickets so the income from them is guaranteed whether they travel or not.

Some commuters have been told to work from home to avoid mixing with their colleagues – but a spokeswoman for Greater Anglia said many had to travel to their workplace.

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She said: “We have commuters from Essex who work for the Met Police, work in hospitals across London, work in shops, or in other businesses where they have to go into their workplace. They cannot just work from home. And they will have to continue to travel by train.

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“We are working very hard to ensure trains are as clean as possible – we are regularly wiping down door handles with sanitising wipes and we are taking extra efforts to make sure soap dispensers are kept topped-up in toilets.”

She said there was no greater danger in using the trains than there was in any other public building: “There is no more risk from taking a train journey than there is from going into an office, or going to a supermarket. But I accept people do have extra concerns now.”

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The talks with the government were being organised by the Rail Delivery Group which represents passenger and freight operators as well as Network Rail.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC that the number of passengers fell by a fifth over the last week.

He said: “The railways have definitely seen a big drop-off ... last week by about 18%-20% in the number of passengers, and we’re working with them closely.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said train companies “are regularly in discussions with the Government about a range of things that affect the railway”.

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