Trains will not be overcrowded during Christmas travel window, government says

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The government does not expect trains to become overcrowded with people travelling to visit relatives during the festive period, the government’s Christmas travel advisor has said.

Sir Peter Hendy, who is also the chair of Network Rail, told MPs on the transport select committee there would be no “massive” increase in demand.

He said market research and reservation data showed that relatively small numbers of people were planning to travel during the dates set out by Boris Johnson and that social distancing should still be possible.

Asked whether overcrowding would make social distancing impossible, he said: “The very general answer to that is ‘no’.

“All the market research, the latest I’ve seen suggests that 76 per cent of people are not intending to travel and of those that are, 80 per cent are planning to travel by car.

“I think as a consequence we’re quite well-placed for the public transport modes to operate so far as long distance travel is concerned entirely within social distancing because we can reserve it.

“As far as urban transport goes it isn’t likely to be much different from where its been in the past few months which is, in my observation at least, widespread adherence to social distancing rules for very practical reasons that people don’t want to contract this dreadful disease.”

Sir Peter said he was not “envisaging terrible scenes either in trains stations, bus stations, or elsewhere” of people breaking social distancing rules amid fears there could be a lack of space.

 

But pressed by MPs, he warned that not reserving a seat in advance on trains was “a more risky thing to do” than securing a place beforehand.

“There will be an increase, but it won’t be massive simply because the trains can’t accommodate it. I think you can see on 23rd that bookings at Euston, for example, are towards the upper limit for some trains of the 70 per cent that’s reservable,” he said.

“That will make the station appear busier than it has in recent months but it won’t be half as busy as it is normally and I’m not expecting Waterloo to see anything like the numbers of people that we got pre-Covid.”

Sir Peter’s comments come amid discussion about whether the government should curtail its Christmas relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions because of rising cases in England.

Up to three households can mix in one place and stay overnight between 23 and 27 December, under rules agreed by the UK government and devolved nations at the end of November.

But a last-minute rise in cases has prompted Scotland and Wales to review their guidance and impose new lockdowns.

Wales will impose new restrictions from Christmas eve and says only two households should get together, while Scotland is also expected to strengthen its guidance.

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