How you can help railways cope with social distancing – Sir Peter Hendy

I HAVE spent my working life advocating the use of public transport, working hard to persuade and entice people to use trains and buses. And here I am about to tell you, mostly, to do the opposite. Strange times.

Railpassengers are being urged to wear face masks.
Railpassengers are being urged to wear face masks.

Last week saw the railway lay on some 3,000 more trains a day, compared to the previous week. That’s almost 70 per cent of a normal weekday timetable,

But, and it is a big but, because of social distancing, the railway’s capacity to carry people has only marginally shifted. From around 10 per cent of normal, to around 13 per cent.

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That’s why we, and government, have been very clear. Only use this precious capacity if you have to. Only then do we have a good chance of keeping everyone – both passengers and staff – safe on trains and stations.

Sir PeterHendy is chairman of Network Rail.

Even then there will be pinch points – getting on and off, staircases, subways, footbridges – which is why you should use a face covering when travelling, avoid peak times, wash your hands frequently and maintain two metres distance from others, whenever you can.

We’ve made quite a few simple changes to the way our stations work to help with social distancing. Things like one-way systems, floor stickers, better signage, hand sanitiser stations, and more frequent and thorough cleaning.

There are lots of extra staff and British Transport Police around to help, too. This is a team effort, and whilst we have these and other measures in place to aid social distancing, we need you to help us too.

To emphasise: we need all of you to continue to avoid public transport if possible. If you can’t, we need you to stick to the measures in place at the station and on the train. We also need you to be considerate to your fellow travellers by keeping two metres apart where you can, wear a face covering, and use hand sanitiser or wash your hands.

Social distancing is being applied to the rail network.

So far, our message to passengers and employers is being heard and we’re seeing only about eight per cent of normal passenger flows.

However, while social distancing is in place, we really do need to keep away – as far as possible (and I never thought I’d hear myself say this) – from public transport.

While the new timetable introduced resembles a Saturday service with extra services in the peak hours and early morning, it’s meant the combined work over many weeks of hundreds of timetable planners from across the rail industry to pull together and re-write the entire Great Britain timetable. Twice. Once for the lockdown and again for this month’s uplifted service.

This is a challenging time for us all, including railway staff working on the track, stations and trains. Please be considerate to each other, and bear with us as we do all we can to help you. If we continue to work together, be sensible and support one another, we will get through it.

Our day-to-day lives today are very different but there have been some positives. More quality time with those we live with, time to get those put-off jobs done, quieter streets and roads, cleaner air. Although for some, especially NHS staff, care workers, delivery drivers, supermarkets, it has been hectic and non-stop, and this is a similar picture for colleagues who work on the railway.

Freight on the railway has been prioritised so that essential goods have got through to keep power stations running, and supermarkets stocked.

While we are running fewer trains, we have been able to take advantage of a less frantic railway network over the last two months as our front-line teams have put the lull to good use by getting ahead with some projects and essential maintenance work that will help to improve our railway and make it more reliable.

Over Easter, and the two May Bank holidays, literally thousands of projects have or will be completed as our colleagues have worked through, with special arrangement and innovations in place to keep them safe.

The railway trades unions have been a massive help and worked with us to find new, safe ways of working that keeps our railway working and our people as safe as we can.

And, as Government takes further steps to ease the lockdown, we will look to add more services to add capacity, to help restart our economy and get Britain running again.

In the meantime, thank you for only using the railway when you have to, for keeping two metres apart wherever you can, and for wearing a face covering when you are travelling. That way, we can take care of you, and our staff, and we can all stay safe.

Sir Peter Hendy is chairman of
 Network Rail.

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