UK rail services face being stripped back as coronavirus leaves ‘ghost trains’

Rail services could be slashed as passenger numbers plummet amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Transport Secretary said there was no point running “ghost trains” as employees chose to work from home rather than commute.

Grant Shapps, who will be meeting with train operators this week, added there was no point running "ghost trains" if people cut back on travel. He warned railways already saw an 18-20% dropoff in passenger numbers last week.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It’s quite clearly an exceptional international moment in time, an international crisis.

“We need to be flexible as a country to react to that and I’ll be driven by, amongst other things, the demand.

“There’s no point running ghost trains any more than running ghost planes.

“But those are conversations which are ongoing.”

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It came as the transport network battled to get to grips with the pandemic.

Flight schedules have been slashed by British Airways' parent company IAG and easyJet due to the crisis.

EasyJet said it has made "further significant cancellations" and warned the "majority" of its planes could be grounded in the future.

IAG revealed its capacity for April and May would be cut by "at least 75%" compared with the same period in 2019.

The "unprecedented level" of travel restrictions imposed by governments and "significantly reduced levels of customer demand" led to easyJet cutting its flight operations, the airline said.

The Luton-based carrier said in a statement there was "no guarantee" European airlines "will survive what could be a long-term travel freeze and the risks of a slow recovery".

IAG boss Willie Walsh said: "We have seen a substantial decline in bookings across our airlines and global network over the past few weeks and we expect demand to remain weak until well into the summer.

"We are therefore making significant reductions to our flying schedules. We will continue to monitor demand levels and we have the flexibility to make further cuts if necessary.

"We are also taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow at each of our airlines. IAG is resilient with a strong balance sheet and substantial cash liquidity."

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there are "lots of different options" to help the aviation industry through the coronavirus crisis.

He added: "We want to make sure that companies and individuals and organisations who are in a good state – not those that are going to fail anyway – are able to continue."

Mr Shapps said he had already worked to ensure airlines do not need to fly empty "ghost planes" just to keep their landing slots at airports. And he did not rule out a bailout for the industry after a plea from Virgin over the weekend.

He told Sky News: "We want to make sure that companies and individuals and organisations who are in a good state – not those that are going to fail anyway – are able to continue.

"So, we'll be looking at all of these measures, I'll be discussing it with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister later today, and those discussions with the sector are ongoing." 

Asked if a bailout of airlines was on the table, Mr Shapps said: "There are lots of different options here – including some other things that people have been looking for, for example HMRC offer a 'time to pay'."

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