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Christmas Travel Update from National Rail, Southern Region

The Parish Council has received the following message from National Rail, Southern Region:

At the end of an extraordinary year, December is going to be a busy time for the railway and we wanted to share some updates for the weeks and months ahead. As well as the particular need to ensure safe travel for all passengers while public health restrictions continue, it’s also a busy time of year for the freight network moving goods and fuel across the country and of course we are prepared for the challenges of winter weather.

  • Safe travel within the new restrictions in England, Scotland and Wales
  • The five-day Christmas bubble – getting everyone safely where they need to be
  • Improvement works over the festive period
  • Our preparations for Winter weather

 Safe travel within the new restrictions in England, Scotland and Wales

Our core message is – if you need to travel, you can travel with confidence. Passengers are following guidance to wear face coverings where they can, to wash and sanitise their hands regularly and to check and plan their travel.

We continue to work closely with operators and the rest of the industry to provide a resilient timetable and plenty of capacity across the network. Passenger numbers remain at around 25-30% of pre-Covid levels, and with around 90% of pre-Covid services running, the railway remains open for safe travel for those that need to with space for effective social distancing. We are also supporting the specific guidance for students undertaking travel between university and home over the coming months.

The railway is undertaking extensive cleaning on trains, at stations and across all parts of the network, with clear guidance to support and protect passengers and our staff. Building that reassurance now is key to ensuring passengers have the confidence to return in greater numbers to the railway when restrictions ease.

  • We are directing all passengers to follow the Safer Travel Guidance issued by the DfT, and the respective advice in Scotland and Wales.

The five-day Christmas bubble – 23 to 27 December

Passengers can travel with confidence in December and over the holiday period in the knowledge that there are more staff around to help and the enhanced and rigorous cleaning regime continuing throughout.

The railway is working hard to ensure everyone can get safely to where they need to be for the five-day bubble in England, Scotland and Wales. This includes maximising space by running more and longer services where possible and providing improved travel information and travel alerts. In turn, we are asking passengers to plan ahead, wear a face covering, follow social distancing guidance and make use of the handwashing and sanitising facilities available.

With all long-distance train companies now selling tickets for the Christmas travel window, passengers are being asked to plan ahead, avoid busier times and make reservations for both their outward and return journeys where these are offered. The impact of the pandemic means services on some routes are currently being finalised and people are being asked to check their train operator’s website for the latest information.

Our Chairman Sir Peter Hendy has been appointed by the Government to scrutinise the Christmas travel plans of all transport operators to ensure journeys are as smooth and safe as they can be.

  • Full guidance on travel arrangements during the Christmas bubble is available here.

Improvement works over the festive period

While the vast majority of the network will be open for business on the 23, 24 and 27 December, there are improvement works taking place around the country and planning ahead is particularly important for those travelling on affected services. Passengers can find out how their Christmas journeys will be affected with their train operator, via National Rail Enquiries, or by following #ChristmasRailWorks on Twitter.

Daily work is underway to assess demand and ensure there are sufficient services and carriages in place, that extra support staff are deployed where needed, and clear advice to passengers is available in advance and during travel. While many Christmas works have been postponed, some are necessary and will need to go ahead. All efforts have been made to organise replacement transport in the form of buses and coaches so people can still reach their final destination safely.

We’ve made two major amendments to our original plan to support passengers travelling to and from their Christmas bubbles:

  • Significant works are taking place on the East Coast Main Line as part of the East Coast Upgrade, which will improve reliability for passengers and boost connectivity between London, the North of England and Scotland. London King’s Cross station will be closed between Christmas Day and 30 December and passengers are being told not to travel to and from the station. Passengers on the East Coast Main Line will be able to complete their journeys into and out of London by changing trains at Peterborough and Finsbury Park, with LNER and GTR working together to ensure this is as smooth as possible. The work is now scheduled to start later than originally planned to ensure extra Christmas Eve services can run out of King’s Cross.
  • Upgrades on the West Coast Main Line will now be completed earlier than planned – on 27 December – to enable a full Sunday service to operate from 10 am rather than midday, making it easier for passengers to travel home from their Christmas bubbles.
  • Details of other works being undertaken are available here.

Over £2.8bn has already been invested to improve the rail network during the pandemic when passenger numbers were lower, to minimise disruption while still keeping communities connected.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said:

“Our frontline workers have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to maintain and upgrade the railway for those who need it and this festive period will be no different, with thousands of workers out delivering significant improvements across our infrastructure.

“It is vital that we drive improved rail performance through targeted investment work so that the railway can continue to play its part in Britain building back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Prepared for Winter weather

Finally, we’ve already seen forecasts of freezing temperatures and winter weather this week, and our preparations have been underway for several months. Preparing for snow, ice, heavy wind and rain, and subsequent flooding are all part of our plan. We ensure earthworks, drainage and vegetation is prepared and put our Extreme Weather Actions Teams on standby with a range of specialist equipment to keep the network open whenever we can, and to recover as quickly as possible when severe weather hits. Additional measures are in place to support passengers during potential delay and disruption in line with public health advice.

The industry works together to get clear advice to passengers as soon as forecasts show bad weather coming in the days ahead, asking them to ‘Check Before You Travel’, or in more extreme cases, advising against travel on impacted routes where it’s unavoidable.

A bumper update this time, but I’m sure you’ll see while demand for the railway remains down, there is a great deal of work underway to ensure passengers and freight users get a safe reliable service over the weeks and months ahead.

If you have any questions – get in touch with us by clicking here.

Southern Region Stakeholder Team