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Government takes over rail network to avoid collapse

‘Unprecedented’: London’s Waterloo station is deserted amid crisis PICTURES: PA

RAIL franchise agreements will be suspended to avoid train companies collapsing amid the pandemic, the Department for Transport has said.

Operators are being given the chance to transfer revenue and cost risk to the government and be paid a small fee to run their services — after ticket sales fell by two thirds and passenger numbers by up to 70 per cent.

The emergency measures, initially for six months, will ‘minimise disruption’, said the DfT. Letting operators go bust would cause ‘more disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer’, it added.

Empty: Passenger numbers are down

Transport secretary 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 hard-working 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 in these unprecedented times.’

The government-controlled Operator of Last Resort is ‘also ready to step in’ if firms reject the measures and end up going out of business.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group ‘strongly welcomed’ the proposals.

Passengers with unwanted advance and season tickets will also be able to claim refunds, with fees waived.

Mr Shapps said it will help to ensure ‘no one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing’. And passenger watchdog Transport Focus called the measure a ‘victory for common sense’.