South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth has urged rail firms to ensure that passenger and staff safety is the “number one priority” as the region’s rail services start to gradually increase.
The MSPs comments come after the UK Government’s message to “go back to work” unless you can work from home, led to a significant increase in the frequency of rail services from Monday (18 May) within the current limited emergency timetable in England.
The Scottish Government’s continued ‘Stay at Home’ message meant only a very small increase in services from Dumfries and Galloway, and all were associated with firms running cross-border services and therefore regulated by the UK Government. There have also been a number of changes to times.
From this week, Transpennine Express have increased the number of services to Glasgow from two a day to three but kept the number to Edinburgh at seven a day. The number of return services from Glasgow has also risen from two to three, with services back to Lockerbie from Edinburgh remaining at seven.
The company have increased the number of services heading south from Lockerbie from nine a day to ten a day with one terminating at Carlisle, one terminating at Lancaster, three terminating at Preston, one terminating at Manchester Piccadilly and four going as far as Manchester Airport.
Avanti West Coast have announced that they will continue to run two evening services to Glasgow from Lockerbie on weekdays, however the number of services from Lockerbie to London Euston doubled on Monday from two to four day during the week.
There continues to be two services from London to Lockerbie during the week and the number of services from Glasgow to Lockerbie will double from two to four.
Due to engineering works, services to and from Lockerbie are likely to be cancelled (or be replaced by buses) at the weekends for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, ScotRail did not increase services this week. Their emergency timetable remains in place with four services a day from Monday to Saturday on the Nith Valley line between Glasgow and Carlisle (stopping at stations in Upper Nithsdale, Dumfries, Annan and Gretna Green) and one service from Glasgow that will terminate in Dumfries. In addition, there be six trains a day running only between Dumfries and Carlisle (stopping at Annan and Gretna Green).
ScotRail are continuing to run four services between Carlisle and Glasgow Central (stopping at stations in Gretna Green¸ Annan, Dumfries and Upper Nithsdale) Monday to Saturday. Additional services also operate four times a day between Carlisle and Dumfries.
On a Sunday trains continue run to a normal frequency with the first train at 12.20 pm from Dumfries to Glasgow Central.
Social distancing will be required at stations and on board services, which means that between 15 and 20 customers only per carriage can be accommodated on trains (subject to the layout of the carriage).
Rail firms are asking passengers to book tickets and seats in advance, or they cannot guarantee passengers will be able to get on the train.
Colin Smyth said: “The clear message for everyone remains only use public transport if you have to. However, for many people in the region that will be the only way they can get to their place of work. The fact more people are returning to the workplace means that passenger numbers are beginning to increase and as a result so too are services.
“At present there is plenty of room on our trains, but the challenges of maintaining social distancing as passenger numbers rise will be enormous. Although the Scottish Government now advise people to consider wearing face coverings on public transport, the evidence that this makes much of a difference is not clear.
“Only between 15 and 20 people will be allowed in a carriage, so I would strongly advise anyone to book in advance if they want to guarantee getting on a train. It is vital that rail firms seek to enforce social distancing and that may well mean people having to be turned way.
“One of the challenges in the medium to longer term will be an even bigger increase in demand for services once Scotland begins to follow the message in England for people to go back to work.
“I will be seeking an assurance from rail firms that they will not axe services from Lockerbie simply because trains for example heading to Edinburgh or Glasgow will be full to the lower capacity level by the time they reach the station.
“It is vital that companies increase the number of carriages to accommodate anyone who wants to travel from Lockerbie. As more and more people start to use trains again, the number one priority of rail firms and Government must be the safety of passengers and rail staff.”