Greater Anglia looking to new era as support from government continues

Greater Anglia is set to continue to get government support until 2022. Picture: GREATER ANGLIA

Greater Anglia is set to continue to get government support until 2022. Picture: GREATER ANGLIA - Credit: Archant

The government is set to announce it will continue to support rail companies until March 2022 as public transport struggles to cope with the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

Trains have been running almost empty since March. Picture: Nathan Long/Greater Anglia

Trains have been running almost empty since March. Picture: Nathan Long/Greater Anglia - Credit: Archant

And from then a new way of delivering rail services is expected to be introduced – with franchises like Greater Anglia replaced by a new operating model.

Full-scale nationalisation is not expected to be an option – the government is keen to ensure it is able to get private-sector investment into the industry in a way which is seeing East Anglia’s rail services transformed with brand new trains.

But a new way of companies running services demanded by the government could emerge over the next 18 months.

The government introduced Emergency Measures Agreements (EMA) with rail companies for six months in March. These ensured trains would continue to run for essential workers while telling everyone else not to use public transport. That lead to a 96% fall in passenger numbers. This has started to increase slowly as more people travel to work again – but remains only a fraction of previous passenger numbers.

MORE: Greater Anglia sees passenger numbers slide

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The exact cost of the EMAs has not been revealed by the government, but it is known to run into billions of pounds. They are due to expire on September 20, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to announce an amended scheme will replace them for 18 months before Parliament rises for the summer recess at the end of this month.

Some experts have calculated that during the pandemic the government has paid an average of £100 for every essential worker using a near-empty train.

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When the government does make its announcement it is expected to change its advice – switching from “only use public transport if you can’t travel by any other means” to “take care when using public transport” and people will be allowed to use it for leisure trips. Face coverings will still be a legal requirement.

By September companies hope to be able to promote rail travel for leisure trips again.

In late 2018 Theresa May’s government commissioned businessman Keith Williams to produce a report looking at the future structure of the rail industry. It had been due to be published in late 2019, but was delayed by the General Election and then by the lockdown.

It is expected that it will now be amended in the light of the EMAs and could form the basis of a new way of delivering rail services – and officials are waiting to see what it will suggest for the future of the industry.

John Thomas, Director of Policy at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “In response to journeys decreasing by up to 96% due to Coronavirus, the government is providing rail companies with temporary support so we can keep workers moving during this time of national need.

“We want to work together with government to evolve the current arrangements as we emerge from the crisis to ensure a reformed railway can work for passengers, support jobs, connect communities and help the economy grow.”

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