Coronavirus: Unions threaten to stop trains if services become too busy

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·4-min read

Trains could be stopped to “keep people safe”, a union boss has warned after reports emerged of some public transport being packed out on Wednesday.

Reports of busier buses and trains emerged as some coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England were eased.

Boris Johnson has told employees who cannot work from home to go back to their jobs if they can’t do them from home and it is safe to do so.

He told people to try and avoid public transport, where social distancing – to try and prevent people catching the coronavirus – is much harder.

Commuters begin to return to public transport. (PA)
Commuters begin to return to public transport. (PA)

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However, Mick Cash, the secretary general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has told Sky News that action might be needed to “protect workers and passengers”.

“If that's what needs to be to keep people safe, then we will stop trains,” Cash told Sky as reports of busy public transport emerged.

“We've been running train and bus services throughout this crisis and have been facing problems with much-reduced services.

“Our members have been very worried about how passengers are congregating on the trains and the buses and the impact that this is going to have.”

Earlier, reports a passenger had collapsed emerged as the London Underground’s Victoria Line was part suspended.

“Social distancing during the peak was a joke. During the suspension our carriages were heaving – it will get worse,” said one worker.

Cash said earlier: “This incident shows just how fraught with danger the government’s return to work call is for our transport services in the midst of this pandemic.

“One incident and we are reduced to crisis management with reports that social distancing is impossible with Tube carriages rammed.”

“RMT warned this would happen and we were ignored. We are monitoring the situation across services this morning and will discuss any appropriate action with our local reps.”

Speaking about the coronavirus’s R number – how many people an infected person goes on to infect, a measure of how fast the virus is spreading – Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we see the R number go up again – particularly above one – we will have to take steps. We all know what that means – it means going back to staying at home.

“We have got a big team of marshallers going out through Network Rail, Transport for London, we have got the British Transport Police out there, and we are even bringing in volunteers to remind people that we don’t want to see platforms crowded.”

Transport for London said in a statement that Tube ridership is still about 94% less than the same time last year, and up 7.3% from Wednesday, 6 May.

“We are doing everything possible to return Tube and bus services to normal levels under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, with many staff still off sick, shielding or self-isolating.

“In keeping with the Government’s plans for the national rail network, next week we aim to increase to 75 per cent of Tube services, 85 per cent of bus services, restore the Circle line and reopen some closed Tube stations.”

It said Londoners who can work from home should do, as per the government advice, and cycle or walk where they can, and to avoid the busiest times if public transport cannot be avoided.

Social distancing should also be observed where possible, the statement adds.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport advised avoiding public transport.

“If people must use public transport, we urge them to avoid rush hour and maintain social distancing wherever possible,” they said.

“We are also advising people to wear face coverings, bring hand sanitiser with them on their journey, and wash their hands thoroughly before and after travelling.

“Operators have also been issued detailed guidance to ensure those who have to use public transport can make journeys safely, in workplaces that are safe for staff.

“They are increasing the number of services to ease pressure across public transport, keeping services and stations clean, and ensuring extra staff are on hand to give clear advice and manage any crowding.”

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