Passengers without a reservation will be stopped from boarding trains and police will be deployed to manage rush hour crowds as services are ramped up this morning.
After the first weekend in which people in England could enjoy sunbathing and picnics outdoors, public transport operators were preparing to carry even more commuters to building sites, factories and offices on Monday.
The move comes at the start of the first full working week since Boris Johnson set out his plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown in England, urging those employees unable to work from home to return to their places of employment.
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group said services will be increased from around 50% of the standard timetable to 70%. But in a bid to enable social distancing, their capacity will be reduced to as little as 10% of normal levels, and passengers are being urged to avoid non-essential travel.
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British Transport Police will have more officers at London stations in a bid to control crowds.
Passengers travelling by train are being asked to wear a face covering and keep a two metre distance from other people where possible.
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Transport operators are being urged by the Government to rearrange, remove or limit seating ‘to try and ensure social distancing is observed’.
This may include blocking off seats in close proximity to others and removing face-to-face seating.
Will Rogers, managing director at East Midlands Railway, warned that the new timetable ‘will only allow a small rise in the number of passengers we can accommodate’.
He added: ‘We urge everyone to only go by train if it is necessary and keep public transport for key workers and those who must travel.’
Passengers using London North Eastern Railway are only allowed to board trains if they hold a reservation as well as a ticket.
The operator is asking passengers to sit in a window seat, with one person per row of four seats, and two empty rows between each passenger.
People travelling as a household will be allowed to sit together but must maintain ‘a safe distance’ from other passengers.
Avanti West Coast warned its customers that anyone without a reservation may not be able to travel on their choice of train due to capacities being limited to around a quarter of normal levels.
Train operator Northern said there will be ‘significantly reduced capacity on each and every one of our trains’.
Rail services have been slashed for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic causing a collapse in demand and a rise in staff sickness.
But the Government is now urging people in England to go to work if they cannot work from home.
Advice in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales remains that people should stay at home.
Meanwhile the Rail, Maritime and Transport union described the increase in train services as a ‘high-risk strategy’ and expressed concern that ‘rushed political considerations could well override the safety issues for staff and passengers’.
It has called for new compulsory protections for passengers and rail workers, including the enforcement of two-metre social distancing on trains and the compulsory wearing of face masks by passengers, which should be provided for free at stations and be able to be disposed of safely.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘We are opposed to the early relaxation of lockdown measures and believe that non-essential workers should avoid using trains. When people absolutely must use a train, there should be new compulsory protections.
‘We have the crazy situation of Eurostar passengers arriving with masks on into St Pancras but then not wearing masks when they transfer to the tube or other rail services.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said the message remained that people should only go to work if they cannot work from home and they should avoid public transport if possible and maintain social distancing if they have no other choice.
He added: ‘We have asked operators to increase the number of services from today to help reduce pressure on the transport network, providing more space for social distancing as well as delivering increased reliability and extra capacity for the future.’
The latest Department of Health figures showed 34,636 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, up by 170 from the day before.
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