Train lines ‘could be axed’ if passengers stay away

Some trains to the coast have been busy recently, like this one to Felixstowe, but Christian Wolmar

Some trains to the coast have been busy recently, like this one to Felixstowe, but Christian Wolmar has warned we could be facing cutbacks to services.. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Could East Anglia’s rail network be facing a new Beeching-style axe if passengers do not return to trains after the lockdown? That is the prospect being raised by national transport writer Christian Wolmar.

Christian Wolmar has warned of the danger of rail cuts. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Christian Wolmar has warned of the danger of rail cuts. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Paul Geater

Mr Wolmar has written books about the industry and is a regular contributor to national media in discussions on the rail industry. He said he had been told by government sources that if there was another lockdown, or passengers did not return to the trains, financial support from the Treasury would have to be cut – forcing companies to cut both lines and routes.

Areas most vulnerable, he said, were Cornwall and East Anglia.

Mr Wolmar said to us: “I have been told by very good sources that the government simply cannot afford to carry on running nearly-empty trains as it has for the last five months. If passengers do not return, or if there is a second lockdown, then services and routes will have to be closed.

“There has been some improvement in passenger numbers on some coastal services – but they are very seasonal. What is needed is a big promotional effort by the companies and government to explain that public transport is safe and to encourage passengers back. Without the passengers the future looks very bleak.”

Rail officials would not comment on Mr Wolmar’s claims, but official government advice only changed last month to allow anyone to travel by train if they are wearing a face covering.

MORE: Passengers still staying off trains

During the recent heatwave there has been a significant increase in the number of people travelling by train to coastal resorts like Felixstowe, Clacton, Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Cromer – but passenger numbers across the network remain much lower than before the lockdown, the numbers are estimated to be about 20% of what had been normal.

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Over the autumn rail companies, including Greater Anglia, are expected to start promoting trains as a safe way to travel. A new survey backed by the Rail Safety and Standards Board has found that someone travelling for an hour on a train has a one in 11,000 chance of contracting Covid-19. And this research does not assume everyone is wearing a face covering.

Mr Wolmar said marketing and offering cheap fares was vital to get passengers back on to the trains.

Some rail officials have been irritated by Mr Wolmar’s comments – pointing out that they have only just been allowed to carry any passengers and that for months the government has been telling people to find alternatives to public transport.

Greater Anglia believes that by emphasising safety measures and eventually promoting rail as an easy and comfortable way to travel with their new trains in operation across the region passengers will eventually return.

However they accept that the days of large-scale commuting that were seen pre-Covid could take many years to return.

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