Rail unions unhappy at plans to increase train services once lockdown lifts

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Three rail unions have said plans to run more trains when the lockdown lifts are “completely unacceptable” and would put the health of both rail staff and passengers at risk.

On Sunday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said more trains and buses would be introduced gradually when the lockdown is lifted, and encouraged employers to stagger employees’ working hours to avoid commuter crowding.

But the bosses of the Aslef, RMT and TSSF unions said they would not accept new working patterns that risk the lives of railway workers and passengers.

In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the unions say: “We have severe concerns over attempts by operators to increase service levels.

“First, it sends out a mixed message that it is okay to travel by train – despite official advice suggesting otherwise. This mixed messaging could be dangerous and lead to the public flouting the rules on travel and work.

“Second, there is no agreement on how actually services can be increased whilst protecting workers and passengers. This includes protections through social distancing, adequate and appropriate PPE and determination of essential and non-essential tasks.

“To be clear – we are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.

“Seeking a blanket increase in services as part of a symbolic and premature drive to apparent normality, at the potential risk of countless lives, is completely unacceptable to us.”

The letter calls on the government and rail operators to work with unions to establish where there is demand to increase services and how any increases in provision can be delivered safely.

“There will have to be an industry-wide agreement with the unions that any increase in services does not increase danger and risk of virus transmission for our members, passengers or our communities,” the letter adds.

The Department for Transport said the advice to stay at home remained in place, but said it “must ensure the network is ready to respond to a change in demand when these [restrictions] are lifted”.

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