Coronavirus impact on railways: 17 March

RailTech starts an everyday overview dedicated to the impact of coronavirus on the rail sector in Europe. We will inform about major developments in this area.

On Monday, 16 March, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Commission proposed to implement temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU (30 days). The measure is being discussed today. It is worth to note that the final decision has not been finalised yet.

Shift2Rail fully operational

The Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking has reported that it is fully operational but it will continue its operations in a new way. “All colleagues in non-critical functions will telework until further notice. Please note that there will no physical meetings taking place on the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking’s premises for the time being. Operations will nonetheless continue to run smoothly through the use of Webex calls, and we, of course, remain reachable via our usual email and office telephone numbers which have been re-routed to colleagues’ mobiles,” Shift2Rail stated.

Netherlands does not close borders

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has addressed to the Dutch people in the evening of Monday, 16 March. It is the first time since the oil crisis in the 1970s when the head of the government behaves in this manner. “My message to the Dutch population: watch each other,” he said. At the same time, he highlighted that the borders of the Netherlands will be open. It means that international trains will continue to run. However, fewer and fewer people are travelling. The railway operators in the country estimate that passenger traffic has been reduced by 85 per cent. Moreover, the Dutch government promised small and medium enterprises financial assistance.

Staff layoffs in Finland

The train traffic in Finland is also affected by the shortage. Today is the last day for the high-speed trains between Finland and Russia. Local railway company VR Group was forced to cancel them from 18 March. The decision was caused by the ban of the neighbouring country to enter its territory. The Finnish operator stressed that these changes do not impact on rail freight transportation.

Moreover, there are some cancellations for domestic trains. From 17 to 19 March, VR Group will suspend 62 connections. Also, it plans some cuts for suburb trains in the Helsinki area. In general, VR Group forecasts that the passenger traffic will decrease by 60 per cent. Therefore, the company plans some staff layoffs. The number and term of this measure are under consideration.

Ukraine cancels international trains

Starting from today, Ukrainian Railway (UZ) has suspended its all international trains to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Belarus, Latvia and Russia. This move was caused by the government decision to close the country’s borders for the regular air and railway passenger traffic. The international trains to Slovakia, Czechia and Poland had been cancelled earlier.

In addition, there have been discontinued trains between the capital city of Kyiv and Boryspil Airport, the largest one in Ukraine. It has no international flights anymore which provide the key number of passengers. As a result, the railway company stopped this connection. Tomorrow, Ukraine plans to suspend all the domestic trains including the suburb and regional connections.

Fewer trains in Norway

Norwegian railway operator Vy has declared its intention to reduce the number of its train and bus services across the country. There are some train cuts in Eastern Norway today. As for tomorrow, Vy plans to reduce its bus services. The company specifies that more changes could be implemented in the future and, therefore, asks the customers to monitor the actual schedule on the website.

“We must prioritize the resources we have available. There are still trains, but not as often as you are used to. We prioritise keeping important departures going and having regular traffic throughout the day. In most cases, we do not set up alternative transport for the trains that do not run. We refer to the next departure and to other ways of travelling where possible,” the company explained its decision.

London counts losses

The United Kingdom is continuing to keep calm as long as it is possible. Its government does not introduce such extensive restrictions as in continental Europe. Of course, the British train operating companies and transport authorities are affected by the decrease in passenger traffic. Therefore, Transport for London (TfL) has estimated its possible losses due to coronavirus.

“Our best forecast, based on government scenarios, is that the financial impact of the coronavirus could be up to 500 million pounds (around 550 million euros). We manage our finances prudently and have reduced our deficit hugely in recent years. This means that we can manage the impacts on our passenger numbers and finances that are currently envisaged. But, given the nature of the situation, we will be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support,” said Simon Kilonback, Chief Finance Officer of the transport body.

Czechia cuts domestic traffic

Czechia was one of the first European countries that imposed travel restrictions for the rail sector. Last week, its government closed the borders for international trains and flights. This week the Czech railway operators are reducing the regional train services. The state-owned company České dráhy also suspended the SuperCity Pendolino trains between Prague and Ostrava until 23 March. Its staff does not sell tickets anymore. The passengers are able to purchase them via online distribution channels. In addition, České dráhy cancelled several onboard (mainly, catering) or station services (luggage storage, bike rental).

Read more in the Coronavirus Updates.

Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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