2020-03-23 11:30:17 UTC
Britain’s trains have effectively been nationalised, at least temporarily,
after the government suspended rail franchise agreements to avoid train
companies collapsing because of the coronavirus.
Under emergency measures announced by the Department forTransport
(https://www.theguardian.com/uk/transport)(DfT), train operators have been
offered the chance to transfer “all revenue and cost risk” to the
government and be paid a small management fee to continue running services.
The industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said it “strongly
welcomes” the proposals.
While the measures are temporary, they nonetheless signal the permanent end
of the UK’s complex rail franchising system, which was already likely to be
abolished by the government-commissioned Williams review.
The emergency measures will be in place for an initial period of six months,
the DfT said, in order to “minimise disruption to the rail sector”.
Allowing operators to enter insolvency would cause “significantly more
disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer”, the department
The DfT said passenger numbers had fallen by up to 70%, while ticket sales
were down by two-thirds on the same period of 2019.
Train services have been cut back from Monday on the back of government
advice to avoid all non-essential travel to stem the outbreak of Covid-19.
The advice was updated on Sunday to include “second homes, campsites,
The transport secretary,Grant Shapps
(https://www.theguardian.com/politics/grant-shapps), said: “We are taking
this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on
their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their
lives to combat the spread of coronavirus and the frontline rail staff who
are keeping the country moving.
“People deserve certainty that the services they need will run or that
their job is not at risk in these unprecedented times.
“We are also helping passengers get refunds on advance tickets to ensure no
one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing.
“These offers will give operators the confidence and certainty so they can
play their part in the national interest.”
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The department said fees paid to rail firms by the government during the
emergency measures were intended to incentivise them to meet performance
targets and the maximum fee attainable will be “far less than recent
profits earned by train operators”.
The RDG chief executive, Paul Plummer, said: “The industry strongly
welcomes the Department for Transport’s offer of temporary support and,
while we need to finalise the details, this will ensure that train companies
can focus all their efforts on delivering a vital service at a time of