AROUND HALF OF SERVICES AXED AS DEMAND PLUMMETS
TRAIN OPERATING companies began reducing services from 23 March in the wake of the coronavirus crisis which had caused demand to fall dramatically. Until that point most had been maintaining a full timetable subject to staff availability in line with obligations in their franchises. The Department for Transport agreed with operators that core services should be maintained to enable key workers to travel while also enabling freight services to continue delivering key goods and supplies.
The initial reductions in services were made by most operators from 23 March at the same time as DfT announced operators would be offered the option to transition to emergency measures agreements (p8). For most these reductions were part of a phased approach dependent on staff availability at the time, with operators reporting variable levels of absence due to staff self-isolating. Further phased reductions followed depending on staff availability and demand, with owning groups managing this on a dynamic basis in conjunction with DfT. The emergency agreements did not cover open access operators (see page 12).
Great Western Railway’s revised timetable featured hourly services on long-distance routes, with four through London to Penzance services and connections to an hourly shuttle west of Plymouth for the rest of the day; Swindon to Gloucester services ran on a two-hourly shuttle. Hourly services operated in the Thames Valley with reduced branch line services to amended times. Reductions further west included only three trains a day from Westbury to Weymouth and peak-only services on the Severn Beach line. In the West Country the Exmouth to Paignton service and Falmouth and St Ives branches were cut to hourly, with amendments on other branch lines. GWR also withdrew its Night Riviera sleeper service between London and Penzance after 20 March.
South Western Railway’s revised timetable featured hourly services on most outer-suburban and long-distance routes. Weymouth was served by a shuttle connecting at Bournemouth with through trains to London, while the Portsmouth line saw one fast and slow train each hour and the West of England line an hourly service to Salisbury connecting to a separate two-hourly service on to Exeter. Closer to London many suburban routes operated half-hourly, with hourly services to Guildford via Cobham and Chessington South and Shepperton served by an hourly shuttle service from Kingston.
Govia Thameslink Railway reduced services from 23 March before implementing further reductions a week later, the latter including the withdrawal of Gatwick Express services. Thameslink services from the Midland main line continued to operate through to Brighton, Sutton and Rainham, but an hourly Cambridge to Brighton service was the only through working from the East Coast main line. There were generally three departures each hour from King’s Cross and four suburban services per hour from Moorgate. South of the river hourly services dominated on routes to the South Coast, with the Uckfield branch cut back to an hourly shuttle from Oxted, and half-hourly services on most routes closer to the capital.
Southeastern’s amended timetable from 23 March saw broadly half the usual number of services operate, with additional early morning services introduced on some lines a week later. Frequencies fell as distance from the capital increased, with four trains an hour from London to Tonbridge, to Swanley via Bromley South and to Dartford via both Bexleyheath and Sidcup. Services to the Kent Coast and to Hastings reduced to one train per hour, while the High Speed service from St Pancras operated at three trains per hour.
INTER-CITY SERVICES CUT
Avanti West Coast reduced the number of hourly departures to and from London Euston from nine to just four. These comprised hourly services to Wolverhampton via Birmingham, to Liverpool, to Manchester via Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield, and to Glasgow, with peak hour calls at Trent Valley stations. A single daily return service operated between Holyhead and London and a second between Chester and London, with a two-hourly service linking Birmingham with Chester.
LNER began reducing services from 23 March, and during that week ceased operating trains beyond Edinburgh to Aberdeen, Glasgow or Inverness. From 30 March further reductions saw around 40% of usual weekday services running, with one or two departures from King’s Cross most hours. Extensions beyond Leeds to Bradford, Skipton and Harrogate were withdrawn. The daily service to and from Hull was initially withdrawn by LNER but was reinstated from 31 March after Hull Trains temporarily suspended all its services.
East Midlands Railway’s reduced timetable on the Midland main line comprised two departures each hour from St Pancras, one to Sheffield and one to Nottingham, with an hourly shuttle between Kettering and Corby and additional peak services. On regional routes Liverpool to Norwich services did not run west of Sheffield and were only two-hourly east of Nottingham, with an hourly service on the Robin Hood line to Mansfield and Worksop and two-hourly on most other routes, with the working day shortened on routes where legacy signalling operates in co-operation with Network Rail.
CrossCountry’s revised timetable implemented on 23 March focused on core routes only, withdrawing services west of Plymouth and north of Edinburgh and not serving Paignton, Bath Spa, Guildford or Doncaster. Hourly services were on four core routes: Manchester to Bournemouth; Edinburgh to Plymouth; Cardiff/Birmingham to Nottingham; and Birmingham to Leicester/Stansted Airport. From 6 April this reduced further with only one train every two hours between Birmingham and Cardiff and between Leicester and Cambridge and no services between Cambridge and Stansted Airport, which were instead covered by Greater Anglia operating a two-hourly service.
Greater Anglia’s reduced timetable from 23 March was closer to a Sunday timetable but with extra early morning and late evening services for key workers. Most services operated hourly, including the Norwich to London inter-city route and Stansted Express, with half-hourly services from Hertford East to Stratford and Southend Victoria to London. On rural routes the usual hourly frequencies were maintained, except on the Ipswich to Peterborough route which continued at the normal two-hourly frequency, although Norwich to Stansted services were cut back to Cambridge.
A revised c2c timetable from 23 March cut the number of departures each hour from Fenchurch Street to six, with two each to Shoeburyness via Basildon, Shoeburyness via Ockendon and Tilbury, and Grays via Rainham. From 30 March the latter two routes were further reduced to hourly, supplemented by four additional early morning services.
MIDLANDS SERVICES SPLIT
West Midlands Trains’ revised timetable included comprehensive changes on the West Coast main line. By 6 April services were reduced to a half-hourly service between Euston and Northampton connecting to a separate hourly service onward to Birmingham. The Trent Valley was served by an hourly shuttle between Crewe and Rugby, and services on the Bletchley to Bedford and Watford to St Albans branch lines were both withdrawn in lieu of bus replacement from 26 March, the bus replacement on the former being withdrawn from 6 April. North of Birmingham, hourly services ran to Liverpool via Crewe, but services from Birmingham to Crewe via Stoke-on-Trent ceased from 6 April.
From 6 April services on the Birmingham Cross City line were split at New Street, with a half-hourly service north to Lichfield and trains south of the city alternating between Bromsgrove and Redditch. The Snow Hill lines saw two trains per hour, but most other services operated hourly and from 6 April Birmingham to Hereford services were cut back to Worcester; with no GWR services either this meant no services at all running between Worcester and Hereford via Great Malvern, with a bus replacement service introduced.
A reduced Chiltern Railways timetable from 23 March cut the number of departures from Marylebone each hour to four, serving Birmingham, Oxford, Aylesbury via High Wycombe and Aylesbury Vale Parkway via Amersham. Additional peak services ran until 3 April before being withdrawn. Iinitially the off-peak Aylesbury via Amersham service was curtailed to a shuttle terminating at Aylesbury to connect with London Underground services, but from 13 April through services were reinstated all day, running at 90-minute intervals off-peak and hourly at peak times.
A reduced TransPennine Express timetable from 23 March featured an hourly service from Liverpool to York and extending alternately to Scarborough and Newcastle, a two-hourly Hull to Manchester service and an hourly stopping service between Leeds and Manchester, plus limited services from Newcastle to Edinburgh and to Middlesbrough and Redcar. On the West Coast main line most services operated between Preston and Edinburgh with limited extensions to Manchester and a small number of services to Glasgow, which was served by Avanti West Coast. On the South route a two-hourly Manchester Piccadilly to Cleethorpes service operated.
Northern began cancelling services on a number of routes owing to lack of available staff before it implemented revised key worker timetables starting from 24 March. Most routes operated either hourly or two-hourly, but with no trains north of Newcastle to Morpeth and Chathill (covered by TransPennine Express) and south of Sheffield to Nottingham (covered by East Midlands Railway) and buses replaced trains between Wigan and Kirkby, Preston and Ormskirk and on the Bentham line between Skipton and Lancaster, with no service at all on the Barton-on-Humber branch.
REDUCED TIMETABLES IMPROVE PERFORMANCE
In what some operators have called ‘an experiment that could never have been carried out’, the significant reduction in passenger services during the coronavirus crisis has seen a marked improvement in service performance as otherwise congested routes has been removed.
After several weeks of near normal punctuality following the disruption caused by extensive flooding across the UK in February, the introduction of the emergency timetables on 23 March saw a steady improvement in punctuality over the first week and a national Public Performance Measure (PPM) score of 100% just a week later (see Table 1 below). Continuing high scores and several further days of 100% appear to prove sectional running times and basic timetable planning across operators have been validated, with the typically lower levels of punctuality thought likely to be caused by the congested nature of the network, limited margins for recovery and inadequate station dwell times. On days where 100% performance was reported a small number of trains may not have met their PPM target, but this has not been enough to take the average down to the 99% point.
Days which have seen lower levels of performance during recent weeks have generally been linked to infrastructure issues where Network Rail has been working hard, despite the social distancing rules now in place, to maintain its infrastructure, and some instances where operators have struggled to resource crews as self-isolation and the coronavirus itself take their toll on staff available for work.