There have been times when the railways of Britain have discouraged people from travelling. Almost always it’s been when trains were crammed to full. Until now.
In Summer 2020 train companies want to know if your journey is really necessary. They are running at a maximum of around 20% of capacity due to Coronavirus social distancing measures. And many in the industry are starting to ask quietly if the railway has got its messaging right. With compulsory reservations on many trains for even short distances and ‘do not travel with us’ warnings there are now bus companies who have seen an exciting market opportunity. Transdev run well-respected bus brands in Yorkshire and Lancashire and they have spotted it. They say they are ‘clean, safe and ready to go!’ and ‘if you need us we are here’. National Express ‘declares Coach Travel is Back’. All whilst major train operators are ‘continuing to temporarily run a reduced service for those for whom travel is essential’. And the private car must look tempting for a lot of nervous travellers.
Many European railway systems are already in recovery. France is ahead of the UK in the epidemic and SNCF is ahead of Britain’s railways. An enhanced summer service was announced on 12 June with their ‘unprecedented re-launch’ of regional passenger trains.
The ‘TER de France’ campaign is led by SNCF with regional authorities. The press release says that the goal is to restore recent growth seen on TER across the France. There will be discounts, offers and promotions.
And across the border in Germany catering services have already restarted and you can take off your face-covering to eat currywurst and drink draft beer in the dining car.
The Guardian [18 June 2020] claims that every passenger journey is costing the taxpayer £100. There are noises that the Treasury wouldn’t mind if parts of the rail system were mothballed. And mothballed systems sometimes stay in mothballs permanently. The railway looks to many industry insiders dangerously disinviting to its customers right now with little sign of ‘we’ll welcome you soon’ messaging.
During World War Two government approved railway company posters asked ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ Let us hope that after the Corona crisis passengers don’t say ‘no, not with you it isn’t, I’ll take the bus’.