THE Government has effectively nationalised the railway networks after operators faced financial ruin through the coronavirus outbreak.
Franchises are to be paid a small management fee to run the skeleton services, but all revenue and costs will be taken on by the Department for Transport.
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Passenger numbers have dropped by 70 per cent since the start of the crisis, with timetables have been slashed because of COVID-19.
The department said fees paid to rail firms by the Government are intended to incentivise them to meet performance targets, and the maximum fee attainable will be “far less than recent profits earned by train operators.”
The scheme, called the ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’ will kick in for six months.
It means that anyone holding an Advance ticket will be able to get a refund free of charge, while admin fees have been waived for season ticket refunds.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We are taking this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus, and the frontline rail staff who are keeping the country moving.
“People deserve certainty that the services they need will run or that their job is not at risk in these unprecedented times.
“We are also helping passengers get refunds on Advance tickets to ensure no-one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing.
“These offers will give operators the confidence and certainty so they can play their part in the national interest.”
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said it “strongly welcomes” the proposal.
RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: “The industry strongly welcomes the Department for Transport’s offer of temporary support and, while we need to finalise the details, this will ensure that train companies can focus all their efforts on delivering a vital service at a time of national need.”
Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith called the move a “victory for common sense.”
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He added: “Creating stability is important for passengers and for the wider economy – train operators must survive to keep services running in these challenging times and get back up and running again as soon as this is over.
“It is right that Government and train companies have has recognised the exceptional circumstances posed by coronavirus and allowed refunds on Advance tickets and unused time on Season tickets.
“This victory for common sense will be a welcome relief for passengers who feared that they had lost their money.”
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