GWR IETs at Swindon

UK: The need to adapt timetables to cope with reduced demand as well as increased staff absences as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is creating a ‘very challenging environment’, Great Western Railway Managing Director Mark Hopwood has told Rail Business UK.

‘Normally as an industry we only change our timetable twice a year’, said Hopwood. During the pandemic ‘many of us have been changing our timetable six, seven or even more times through the last year’.

Hopwood confirmed that GWR, along with other operators, was in continual dialogue with the Department for Transport over the levels of service that the government would like to see while it is funding the industry.

GWR Greenford coronavirus social distancing sign

‘The rationale behind changing the plan is to try and respond to the events that we have around us both in terms of customer needs and customer demand, but also recognising our own resource constraints as well’, said Hopwood.

‘Sadly we’ve seen coronavirus affecting our own staff, we’ve had some particular challenges in Great Western with an outbreak in the southwest of England and of course we have to respond to that.

‘Prior to Christmas we were running about 95% of the base timetable on GWR, with the recent changes that’s come down to around 80% and I think that’s appropriate.’

Hopwood pointed out that adapting timetables puts pressure on the business, with the public timetable published online being only the end result of a process which requires a lot of work with Network Rail and to plan rolling stock and staff deployments.

The need for frequent changes ‘has generated a lot of work’, said Hopwood. ‘It’s not something that we would particularly want to do, but it is the right thing to do to adapt to the circumstances around us.’