Transport secretary Grant Shapps has promised angry commuters that ‘big improvements’ in railway timetables are bound to take place within the next two weeks.
Shapps said this morning he’s in talks with train operators to bring timetables back to quasi normal levels, as the number of people travelling has increased significantly following the removal of the work from home order.
“In the next couple of weeks we should start to see big improvements,” he told PA news agency in an interview. “Of course, we’re timing that alongside the fact that not everyone is back to work yet but we’re starting to see big increases in the number of people travelling.”
According to Department for Transport statistics, on Monday railway journeys were at 51 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, as the UK’s system recovers from the worst cancellation period ever.
Between 12 December and 8 January, 4.4 per cent of services were cancelled because of either Omicron-induced staff shortages or industrial action, City A.M. reported. Several operators – South Western Railway and Avanti West Coast – were forced to introduce emergency timetables to guarantee a functioning service.
“What I want to see is railways expand, not shrink,” Shapps added. “Obviously, with regard to how much people travel and at what speed they return to work, we need to make sure the timetables match that. “But our commitment to the railways, I think, is second to none.”
The secretary’s comments come after reports emerged that railway timetables would not go back to pre-pandemic levels, following the government’s alleged decision to scrap the £16bn emergency bailout.
“The railway is in a financial crisis because subsidies that were £4 billion before the pandemic have quadrupled to £16 billion,” a source told the Sunday Times. “That is unsustainable from the Treasury point of view and the taxpayer point of view.
The move was lambasted by Lib Dem transport spokesperson and Richmond MP Sarah Olney.
“Today’s miserable Monday morning commute will be the new normal if London’s train timetable isn’t restored,” she said, “The cuts in services are leaving thousands across the capital and commuter belt left stranded on cold platforms. This is a depressing step backward for what should be a city recovering after a tough pandemic.”