Between the Lines: June 2020

After any major change in the world, for example 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis, it’s a cliché to say ‘things will never be the same again’. But with the coronavirus crisis, this is undoubtedly true for the country as a whole, and there will certainly be dramatic impacts on the railway industry.

Service recovery is the key immediate issue. Effective social distancing is most likely to be delivered by passengers themselves, principally through a widespread unwillingness to use public transport of any sort, and also because passengers will keep as far away from each other as possible. Inter-city services may initially operate on the basis of compulsory reservations, although there are significant issues with the network’s old, clunky reservation system, which works on the basis of filling up one coach at a time. There is a potential workaround for this, by creating dummy reservations for three-quarters of the seats before passengers can book – for some years, there has been a clear need for a new, more customer-friendly system.

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