Rail firms face a poor end to the year as services across the UK are cancelled in the crucial Christmas period as rising numbers of staff fall ill with Covid-19.
Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, LNER, Scotrail, and West Midlands Railway have all reported cancellations this week following the news on Monday 20 December that more than 90,000 tested positive for Covid in the UK.
According to the Rail Delivery group (the British rail industry membership body), in the past week, 5.2% of trains were cancelled, versus an average of 2.9%. This is bad news for both customers and rail firms, which both face major disruptions in what is a busy period in the year.
The cancellations are a result of an increase in the number of staff self-isolating due to the spread of the Omicron variant, which is believed to be more infectious than the delta variant.
Multiple rail firms have reported disruptions to services
The issue of staff shortages has been felt across the entire country, with most operators reporting some form of disruption to upcoming services. The Rail Delivery group, which represents train operators across the UK, said its members had reported that 8.7% of their staff were off sick due to causes including Covid-19. That figure stood at 7.6% a month ago, marking quite a significant rise.
Britain’s major long-distance operators appear to be among the most affected. For instance, LNER has taken out 16 trains a day until 24 December between London, Lincoln and Leeds. A spokesperson for LNER said services were being reduced “as a result of an increase in the number of our staff self-isolating due to Covid”.
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More than 100 ScotRail services were cancelled on 20 December, with staff illness stated as the cause of almost all of cancellations, in particular positive cases and self-isolation measures. Transport for London also stated that approximately 500 of its frontline staff were currently off work due to a Covid-related illness.
Northern, Southern and TransPennine Express have also warned of disruptions due to staff illness, while Greater Anglia said it was cancelling services due to a lack of demand, highlighting the true scale of the issue.
More bad press for UK rail firms
The latest issues for UK rail operators follows recent news that rail prices would soon be rising once again. The government announced on 17 December that next year’s fares will rise by 3.8% from March, which has sparked outrage from consumers. Transport ministers have defended their decision by stating that this is below the current rate of inflation; however, it has been criticised by passenger bodies amid the rising cost of living and the impact of the pandemic.
The Department for Transport said that the British taxpayer has already invested more than £14bn to keep services running during the pandemic. The prospect of disruptions over the crucial Christmas period and price rises in the new year will cause yet more disappointment from already disgruntled passengers.