Fears for the future of cherished railway lines after coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 06:44 13 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:37 13 August 2020
Fears are growing that some of the region’s cherished local railway lines could be axed because of dwindling passenger numbers in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.
Customers have been slowly returning to trains, but numbers remain down on pre-Covid levels – triggering concern from campaigners over community routes including the Bittern Line and the Wherry Line in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Yesterday, transport writer Christian Wolmar revealed he had been told by government sources that public funding would be sliced if another lockdown was enforced or reluctance to use trains continued.
He added that East Anglia was seen as one of the country’s most vulnerable areas.
And Steve Hewitt, from East Norfolk Transport Users Association, said he would not be surprised to see cuts.
He said: “It is perfectly feasible and, as the old adage goes, there is no smoke without fire. The government has already spent billions on Covid and the economy is declining. I must admit it doesn’t look good.
“Losing the Wherry Line would be a tremendous loss – disastrous, in fact. It would be almost impossible without a car to get to London, and no-one from Yarmouth would ever go further than Norwich.
“For years we have campaigned for improved services, but there is no sense they are coming. A lack of improvements simply makes it easier to cut what is already there.”
Mr Wolmar said the government “simply cannot afford” to continue running “nearly-empty trains” in some areas.
Official advice only changed in June to allow anyone to travel by train if they were wearing a face covering.
But David Bill, a campaigner for rail improvements with Norfolk Orbital Railway, said he believed normal service was close to resuming.
He added: “There will be some reluctance to use trains and we have to be careful, but it is only a matter of time before we return to normal life.
“You’ve got to think that more and more people have realised just how attractive Norfolk is as a place to visit, so we will need railways to keep the local economy going.”
Over the autumn rail companies are expected to start promoting trains as a safe way to travel. A survey backed by the Rail Safety and Standards Board has found that someone travelling for an hour on a train has a one in 11,000 chance of contracting Covid-19.
Greater Anglia did not respond to the latest fears but said previously it believed that by emphasising safety measures and promoting rail as an easy and comfortable way to travel, passengers would eventually return.
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