Rail services could be cut by half to hit levels seen during the first lockdown as the latest restrictions again significantly cut passenger demand.
The sharp fall in revenue as a result of the pandemic and government restrictions has seen the rail industry temporarily, effectively nationalised through emergency measures agreements and emergency recovery measures agreements.
Under these arrangements, the Government pays train firms to run services for a fee in lieu of passenger revenue.
Passengers arriving at Waterloo during November's lockdown
The Department for Transport (DfT) anticipates that this will cost taxpayers over £10bn and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) which represents train operators, said that rail companies paid out more than £500m in ticket refunds last year to people who were unable to travel due to coronavirus.
It is expected that the latest lockdown will again see large numbers of empty or near-empty trains as people are told only to leave their homes when it is essential and to stay local when travelling.
A DfT spokesperson said the department would ‘work with operators in the coming days to assess the right level of service provision as we have done throughout the pandemic’.
The spokesperson added: ‘While we cannot predict the long-term effect of Covid-19 on travel patterns, it is critical that we ensure the railway can respond quickly to changes in passenger demand whilst supporting economic recovery.’
By April services had fallen to 55% of pre-COVID levels but the RDG said this increased over the year, reaching around 87% of normal levels in December ‘to increase space’.
Robert Nisbet, the RDG’s director of nations and regions, said: ‘Rail companies played an important role keeping key workers moving and supermarkets stocked during last year’s lockdowns.
‘We are working closely with government to ensure we run the right level of services to do so again. By increasing cleaning and providing better customer information, our people are ensuring that those who must travel can do so with confidence.’