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Train services to increase to 90% of pre-coronavirus levels today
7 September 2020, 08:32
Rail operators are set to increase timetabling to around 90% of pre-pandemic levels from today, according to industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
The increase, which comes as schools reopen in England and Wales and workers are encouraged to return to the office, will see a combination of longer trains and extra services added to timetables.
LNER is planning to ramp up to 85% of its pre-virus timetable by adding 10 extra Anglo-Scottish services to destinations including Peterborough, Doncaster, York and Newcastle.
Southeastern, meanwhile, will be up to 98% by adding 900 carriages and 50,000 seats to weekday services.
This will boost routes travelling to London St Pancras International, London Cannon Street, Dover Priory, Ramsgate and Gillingham.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said the capacity increase would be a welcome one as "many will now have more choice and a better chance of maintaining social distancing".
He added: "The rail industry must focus on maintaining good performance so that passengers can travel with confidence.
"Disruption and any crowding from this will be especially unwelcome and has the potential to damage trust in the railway.
"The industry also needs to keep an eye on passengers numbers, and checking if gaps in services are causing problems."
A Transport Focus survey of 2,000 people last month found that 77% of train passengers were satisfied with the ability to maintain a safe distance from others.
It also found 50% were satisfied with finding out how busy a service would be prior to travelling, while 69% were satisfied with the number of fellow passengers wearing face masks.
It comes as a recent Rail Safety and Standards Board study concluded the risk of catching COVID-19 on an average journey was below 0.01%.
LNER managing director David Horne said his company's increased capacity marked "a significant step forward" after the pandemic.
Travellers on LNER services will still be required to reserve a seat before boarding, but Mr Horne said as passenger numbers increase, extra services would "ensure that we can maintain social distancing in the coming weeks."
For Southeastern, passengers will be able to see red, amber or green indicators on departure boards to check the capacity of outbound trains.
According to the Department for Transport, rail usage in Britain is currently at 31% of its pre-pandemic levels, and comes after services were cut in March ahead of the peak.
These services began to resume to around 80% after restrictions were pulled back in May and July.
ScotRail also increased its services last month ahead of children returning to school.
Some train operators will be returning to normal refund rules on Monday, meaning season ticket refunds will not be backdated up to 56 days from the last date of travel.
Admin fees of up to £10 may also be applied to refunds of single or return tickets.