Coronavirus: Government to fund ‘essential’ light rail services

Tram at MediaCityUK in Salford

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Greater Manchester’s mayor had said Metrolink could be “mothballed”

The government has confirmed it will support England’s light rail systems to “allow essential services to continue” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it was working with networks in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham had warned his area’s service could be “mothballed” due to financial losses.

The DfT said it was working “to identify what support is needed”.

A spokesman said the amount of government funding was still being calculated, but it would “enable key routes to remain open for people travelling to hospitals, supermarkets or those who cannot work from home, such as NHS staff”.

He added that as light rail was a devolved issue in London, Transport for London would need to “consider any measures to support the sector”, while Blackpool’s tram network, which was taken out of service at the end of March, “does not support key workers”.

On Tuesday, Mr Burnham said Greater Manchester’s Metrolink service was “losing millions of pounds a month”, with passenger numbers down 95% since the outbreak began.

Responding to the announcement, he said he was “pleased this has been recognised by the government and welcome their commitment to… light rail networks around the country”.

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The funding will support five networks, including Sheffield’s Supertram

“However, we urgently need the detail of this funding, as well as the funding itself, so we can ensure these vital services can continue to run during the lockdown period,” he added.

Mr Burnham said he was already “looking closely at what services will look like once lockdown is lifted,” adding: “The road to recovery is going to be a very long one, and we are already stressing to government the financial help that will be needed throughout 2020 and beyond.”

A spokesman for Nexus, which runs the Metro service in Tyne and Wear, echoed Mr Burnham’s comments and said the firm “now need to know with some urgency what the details of the financial package are”.

He said running the system was “costing us almost £1m a week” and the firm could only plan for the end of lockdown “if we know that we have enough money to pay staff wages and carry out maintenance”.

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said securing funding for the area’s Supertram network “will help ease the financial strain during the crisis, allow essential journeys to continue and keep NHS staff and key workers moving”.

The Confederation of British Industry’s regional director Sarah Glendinning said the services were “the lifeblood of our communities and key workers are relying on them to do their jobs throughout this crisis”.

“This move to support operators shows that government recognises their vital contribution to Britain’s path to recovery.”

The union Unison said it had been concerned about the possibility of services being halted.

North West regional secretary Kevan Nelson said his members were “putting themselves at risk every day and… the last thing they need is being delayed, or worse, being prevented from attending work”.

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