Temporary timetables will be introduced from Monday March 23, as passengers stay at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Core services will continue to run, to help people such as emergency services staff and those working in the NHS get to work.
There is also a plan to ensure that important freight trains continue to run, to enable the delivery of goods and supplies.
Running reduced services will also help protect the welfare of frontline railway staff essential for day-to-day operations.
The Department for Transport confirmed that service levels will be kept under review and that train operating companies must ensure passengers have the correct information. Longer-term, there will be a gradual move towards reduced service levels on wide parts of the network.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said: “We are taking decisive action to protect the public, which means reducing travel for the time being, while still ensuring keyworker heroes can get to their jobs to keep this nation running.
“For passengers in crucial roles, including essential workers in our emergency services and NHS, alongside people who need to attend medical appointments or care for loved ones, these changes protect the services they rely on.
“Our railways are at the heart of this country’s transport links, and we continue to work closely with the industry to develop measures that protects operators in these challenging times.”
Rail Delivery Group Director of Nations Robert Nisbet said: “At a time of extraordinary national challenge, the measures rail companies are putting in place with Government will preserve services so that we can continue to get key workers to where they need to be, deliver food to supermarkets, and get fuel to power stations.
“This is not a decision we take lightly. However, implementing these measures now will mean that we can continue to operate trains over a prolonged period with fewer railway workers, who like so many others are to be commended for putting the needs of the country first and whose safety remains front of mind.
“We are monitoring demand closely.And should it become necessary in the weeks ahead, we will adjust services and timetables to ensure they’re being delivered to best effect where they’re needed most, in accordance with our plan.”
Similar measures have been agreed by the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “We know that rail provides an important service in moving passengers and goods around the country. However, we will reach a point where travel is reduced to essential journeys only.
“Moving to a reduced timetable will not only help ensure some passenger services continue to run, it will enable freight to be prioritised so goods and emergency supplies such as medicines can be moved around the country.”
Ken Skates AM, Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, said: “In Wales, the railway is crucial to ensuring key workers such as nurses, police officers and firefighters can get to work. It also provides a vital supply line for our power stations and supermarkets.”
- For the FULL story on how COVID-19 has already started affecting the railway, read RAIL 901, published on March 25, and available digitally from March 21.
- For the FULL story regarding timetables and the railway's ongoing response to the COVID-19 situation, read RAIL 902, published on April 8, and available digitally from April 4.