Demand for trains plummets after timetables were slashed

Demand for trains plummets after timetables were slashed: Rail travel is 55% of pre-pandemic levels after Omicron wave saw firms axe services to cope with staff shortages

  • Number of train journeys just 55 per cent of pre-pandemic levels on Monday
  • Rail companies warned commuters of reduced services ‘until further notice’
  • A ‘Sunday-style timetable’ has been introduced on some rail routes in Britain
  • Passenger numbers hit 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels before Omicron

Demand for trains has plummeted after timetables were slashed with rail travel at 55 per cent of pre-pandemic levels after Omicron saw firms axe services to cope with staff shortages.

The number of train journeys made on Monday was just 55 per cent of the normal total, according to provisional Department of Transport figures.

That was up 38 per cent on Tuesday, January 4, the first working day of the previous week in England and Wales.

It comes as rail companies across Britain have warned passengers that they face reduced services ‘until further notice’ amid rail replacement buses, halved service frequencies and a ‘Sunday-style timetable’ on some routes. 

Train firms have slashed hundreds of services due to thousands of Covid-related staff absences, with bosses warning passengers to expect last-minute cancellations and more crowded trains due to fewer in operation.

Staff absence for all reasons is now at 11 per cent across all operators, according to the latest Rail Delivery Group data in the week to January 5 – a sharp rise from 8.9 per cent up to December 29 and 8.7 per cent to December 22.  

The ever-rising figure is also significantly up on 7.6 per cent in November 2021 and 4.5 per cent at the end of August 2020, during the period when Covid-19 rates in the UK were at their lowest during the pandemic.

Commuters wait to catch a London bound train in Bracknell, Berkshire, on Monday – when the number of rail journeys was just 55 per cent of the normal total

Commuters pictured arriving at London Waterloo Station today, January 5 – the second working day of the New Year

This Transport for London graph dating back to the start of 2020 shows how passenger numbers have dropped once again

This Transport for London graph shows passenger data split by station type, dating back to the start of 2020

Train companies said the amended timetables had been brought in because of high staff absence numbers but also lower demand since the Government’s working from home guidance was brought back in last month.

Passenger numbers exceeded 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels prior to Covid fears again taking hold amid the rapid spread of Omicron across the UK in late November.

The variant led to work from home guidance being introduced, causing a significant drop in the number of commuters travelling by train into offices across Britain.

Car use, meanwhile, increased from 75 per cent to 82 per cent between January 4 and January 10, while bus travel outside London rose from 57 per cent to 68 per cent over the same period.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed ‘great progress’ against Omicron earlier this week and said the Government is ‘looking at’ cutting the self-isolation period – but warned that the NHS is still under significant pressure.

There are currently mounting calls to reduce the mandatory quarantine period from seven days to five as fears mount over the impact of more than a million people being forced into isolation. 

Ministers have already cut isolation times from 10 days to seven for those who can provide negative tests on two consecutive days, but Downing Street has so far refused to follow the lead of France and the US in reducing the period by a further two days.

How Covid-related staff shortages are affecting train services across UK

  • Avanti West Coast: Says it is ‘doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short notice cancellations’.
  • c2c: Normal service.
  • Caledonian Sleeper: Normal service.
  • Chiltern Railways: Operator warns it ‘may have to make some short notice changes to our timetable’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 on our train crews’.
  • CrossCountry: ‘Short notice alterations and cancellations’ because of ‘increasing levels of absence amongst train crew due to Covid-19 isolation periods’ 
  • East Midlands Railway: Normal service.
  • Eurostar: Normal service.
  • Gatwick Express: No services ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness’.
  • Grand Central: Normal service.
  • Great Northern: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.
  • Great Western Railway: ‘Reduced temporary timetable’ in operation since January 8 because of ‘higher than usual levels of staff being absent or self-isolating due to Covid’.
  • Greater Anglia: ‘Sunday-style timetable with earlier first trains and more trains at peak times’ on weekdays from January 10.
  • Heathrow Express: Normal service.
  • Hull Trains: A temporary timetable will operate until February 12 to ‘minimise disruption’.
  • LNER: Running a ‘reduced timetable’ between London and Leeds/Lincoln until at least February 11
  • London Northwestern Railway: ‘Some trains may be cancelled at short notice’ and there is a rail replacement bus service on the Abbey Line and Marston Vale Line ‘until further notice’.
  • Lumo: Normal service.
  • Merseyrail: Some trains will be cancelled from January 8 ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘impact of the Omicron COVID-19 variant affecting staff availability’.
  • Northern: Operating ‘several amended timetables’ because of ‘Covid and its impact on the availability of our train crew’.
  • ScotRail: It is ‘being forced to bring in a temporary timetable’ until January 28 ‘as we continue to see colleagues off sick because of Covid-19’.
  • South Western Railway: New reduced timetable from January 17 due to a ‘shortage of staff across our business’ causing ‘short term cancellations’
  • Southeastern: Timetable reduced by 7% from January 10 because of an ‘increasing number of our colleagues affected by Covid’ and work from home guidance
  • Southern: London Victoria station services restarted from January 10 but reduced timetable continues ‘until further notice’ due to the ‘ongoing impact of coronavirus isolation and sickness’. 
  • Stansted Express: Half-hourly service running.
  • Thameslink: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘ongoing impact of coronavirus isolation and sickness’.
  • TransPennine Express: ‘Amended timetable’ from January 10 ‘due to a shortage of available train crew as a result of rising sickness levels’
  • Transport for London: Reduced service on Richmond to Stratford and Dalston Junction to New Cross routes from January 10 due to a ‘number of staff off ill due to Covid or self isolating’
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: Normal Metrolink tram services.
  • Transport for Wales: ‘Emergency timetable’ to ‘prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant’.
  • West Midlands Railway: Rail replacement buses on the Leamington Spa-Nuneaton via Coventry line ‘until further notice’ due to the ‘impact of Covid-19 on our workforce’. ‘Some services on the Birmingham New Street to Shrewsbury line are likely to be cancelled’.

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