Open access operator Hull Trains is looking into ways to transport passengers who are unable to travel on ‘full’ franchised services.
The company, owned by FirstGroup, is currently in ‘hibernation’, having suspended services at the end of March due to the COVID-19 outbreak (RAIL 902).
This is because, unlike franchised train operating companies, HT and fellow open access operator Grand Central do not receive Government funding through Emergency Measures Agreements, only through the furloughing scheme.
Almost all of their revenue is thus generated through fares - but HT Managing Director Louise Cheeseman told RAIL on June 3 that in the final days of operation in March, as few as seven passengers were travelling on HT services.
However, Cheeseman added that it’s likely trains will become ‘full’ in the event of social distancing measures not being correctly observed, as more passengers try to travel by rail. She believes HT could be able to carry those extra passengers.
“I would love us to be supporting franchises before it is commercially viable to return,” she told RAIL.
“Discussions would have to take place and we have not talked directly to the operators, but we are still heavily involved with the Rail Delivery Group and they are supportive of us.”
She added that discussions on funding would also need to be held.
Cheeseman added: “There are a lot of passengers who need our services to Doncaster to be able to connect with other companies. We also have a good proportion who travel to London, but we could support the franchised operators that will have social distancing issues.”
She said Hull Trains’ return would also benefit the East Riding of Yorkshire, a community which has suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cheeseman explained that she has spent a lot of time with MPs and stakeholders discussing the challenge.
“Cross-party support has been amazing,” she said, adding: “We need to know the details regarding how we will return,” although she said that every time Government eased lockdown measures it meant Hull Trains edged that bit closer to returning."
- For the FULL story, read RAIL 907, out now.