Greater Anglia looks ahead – but what is long-term future for trains?
- Credit: Archant
The coronavirus lockdown is set to have a major impact on rail travel – but Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles warned it could be months before the new way of working becomes clear for passengers and staff.
At present the company is running trains for essential staff only. Just over half the normal trains are running, but they are only carrying about 5% of normal passenger numbers. Rail companies are being subsidised by the government to keep the trains running.
Mr Burles said they were making plans to run more trains when they heard the lockdown was being eased, but this would be far from “business as usual.”
He said: “We will have to work out how to run trains while maintaining social distancing.”
This could mean taping off some seats and strictly limiting the number of people who could travel. “We could have to keep people off platforms until their train arrives and strictly slow down people getting on or off the trains – that could mean they have to wait longer at stations.”
Prolonged changes could impact on the financial health of companies – Greater Anglia has invested in a £1.4bn fleet of new trains which are designed to carry many more passengers but don’t have space for social distancing.
Mr Burles said: “At this stage it is not possible to say how things will look in the long term. The Department for Transport is very supportive of our investment in new trains and we are working to get more introduced into service. But we shall have to see how things develop.”
He was very grateful to the staff who were working hard to keep the special timetable operating. The punctuality of trains was now running at about 97% with almost 99% punctuality on the Great Eastern Main Line.
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At the start of the lockdown 10% of Greater Anglia staff were absent from work with symptoms of coronavirus – or were self-isolating. Now the figure has come down to just 3.5% of staff. Normally there are about 3.5% of Greater Anglia staff off work sick. Now the total figure for all sickness in the company is just under 6%, including those with coronavirus symptoms.
Mr Burles also recognised there could be a long-term effect on the number of commuters after some realise they could work at home: “But it is very early to know how things will change, and I remain convinced there is a good future for rail in this country.”