Weekend rail delays could be rarer after Covid crisis

Network Rail engineers at work

Network Rail usually carries out major work at weekends. - Credit: Network Rail

Weekend disruption for rail passengers making leisure trips could become much less common after the pandemic because Network Rail may switch more maintenance to weekdays, the organisation's boss has said.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy told The National Rail Recovery Conference there is “no point” in carrying out engineering work at weekends when trains could be busier than they are during weekdays.

Industry experts have estimated that the number of daily commuters using trains to get to offices could fall by as much as 40% as staff will be happy to continue to work at home for at least part of the working week.

Sir Peter said that during the lull in the Covid crisis last summer there were increasing numbers of weekend travellers using trains to get out on day trips.

He said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if we found on summer Saturdays that actually we have more demand on the railway than we did during the working week.

“And if that’s true, that’s not anything that we can’t cope with because that was true in the 50s and 60s.”

Sir Peter predicted that travel by people working from offices will “come back”, but will be “permanently lower” than pre-pandemic levels, with a reduction of up to 40%.

Greater Anglia's new Aventra trains

Greater Anglia's new Aventra trains have high-density seating. - Credit: Greater Anglia

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He warned that commuters would be less happy travelling on full trains - but that warning could be too late. Many companies including Greater Anglia have ordered new commuter trains that have high-density seating allowing hundreds of passengers to travel on each five-carriage train.

Sir Peter said: “People are going to be much less willing to cram in and have their nose stuck in somebody’s armpit. Our reaction to being in crowded places now is a much greater level of discomfort than it used to be.”

Leisure travellers trying to head to London from East Anglia have faced years of weekend disruption as Network Rail has upgraded the track, overhead wires and stations between Shenfield and Liverpool Street - and major work requiring line closures are still usually scheduled for the weekend.