Christmas rail crisis as Covid hits staff and firms warn of 'short notice cancellations'

22 December 2021, 08:52 | Updated: 22 December 2021, 08:53

Passengers are being warned of short notice cancellations amid a Covid staffing crisis this Christmas
Passengers are being warned of short notice cancellations amid a Covid staffing crisis this Christmas. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Rail operators have warned of cuts to services over the festive period as Omicron causes a Christmas staffing crisis.

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Passengers have been told to travel "sooner rather than later" to avoid last minute cancelations to rail services ahead of Christmas Day as staff are forced to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus.

Long distance rail services are among those most impacted, but Transport for London also warned around 500 staff are currently off work due to Covid-related illness.

CrossCountry said it is "expecting widespread disruption to our services this week".

The rail provider warned: "Please pull your journey forward to sooner rather than later to get to your end destination as early as possible."

Whilst Avanti West Coast told passengers: "The pandemic is unfortunately resulting in some staff shortages.

"We're doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short-notice cancellations."

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Greater Anglia added: "We also have to plan for our staff being affected by the Omicron variant, especially as we're already starting to see the early signs of its impact, to ensure we can continue to provide a reliable service."

Other train providers such as Greater Anglia, northern, ScotRail, Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern network have also issued warnings of cancelations and reduced timetables.

A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: "Like everyone else, our staff are susceptible to the virus but as we showed last year during the pandemic, we will ensure that key workers can get to where they need to be.

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"We aren't able to run every train as planned at the moment but we know people want confidence that their train is going to turn up so we will be working hard to give clear, accurate and timely information and people should check before they travel."

Transport is not the only sector to face staffing shortages over the Christmas period, with the NHS, care and education sector also revealing increased pressures.

On Monday, Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called on ex-teachers to sign up from today to help with Covid staff shortages in the new year.

Former teachers who are available to return to the classroom should apply on the Get Into Teaching website, he said.

They should ideally start the process before Christmas Eve to be ready to join the workforce from January, he added.

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Whilst figures suggest that one in three NHS staff in London could be off work by New Year's Eve.

The possible staff absence levels were reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) as the capital deals with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

As well as the NHS, there are also concerns about how staff absence could affect the fire and police services.

People infected with Covid can now take two lateral flow tests to cut down their self-isolation period, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

Under the latest advice, two tests can be taken 24 hours apart - on day six and seven of an isolation period - and, if the results are negative, quarantine can come to an end.