Eurostar, Thalys and TGV trains at Brussel-Zuid station, source: Maarten Otto via Flickr

Coronavirus impact on railways: 18 March

RailTech continues to cover the influence of coronavirus on the European rail sector. Below you can find some highlights of Wednesday, 18 March. The updates from Tuesday, 17 March, are available here.

Today’s key issue is the decision of the European Commission to close the borders of the Schengen area for non-EU citizens. In the late evening of Tuesday, 17 March, the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council Charles Michel have finally declared the travel ban to Schengen area for a period of 30 days. “To limit the spread of the virus globally, we agreed to reinforce our external borders by applying a coordinated temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU for a period of 30 days, based on the approach proposed by the Commission,” Charles Michel said at the press briefing.

At the same time, Ursula von der Leyen noted that the UK citizens are not the subject of the mentioned travel ban. “The UK citizens are European citizens, so, of course, there are no restrictions for the UK citizens to travel to the Continent,” she specified. In addition, she implied on possible unblocking the borders of some Schengen states that had introduced the travel restrictions earlier. “A big topic today was, of course, the internal borders, and consequently the blockages there. And here it is absolutely crucial that we unblock the situation because we know that too many people are stranded within the European Union and have a problem to go back home,” the Commission’s President explained.

UIC headquarter closed

The International Union of Railways (UIC) has reported on closing its headquarter in Paris. “No events and meetings are currently being held – however, for specific activities that cannot be done from home, some employees will occasionally go to work according to the rules established by the government. UIC office staff are otherwise asked by the French government to work from home,” the association informed the partners via e-mail.

Deutsche Bahn keeps going

German national railway operator Deutsche Bahn has confirmed that it is continuing its work. “Local, long-distance and freight traffic of the DB runs stably and almost without restrictions. At the moment there are restrictions only in cross-border rail traffic due to official orders,” the company stated in its corporative blog.

Ukraine suspends domestic trains

After cancelling all the international trains, Ukrainian Railway (UZ) has suspended all the domestic trains. “Due to quarantine and until a further decision of the Government of Ukraine from 12:00 of 18 March, UZ suspends the internal rail passenger service. At the same time, the company reimburses passengers for the full cost of travel documents for all cancelled trains, without additional fees. Tickets can be returned within one month of the scheduled departure of the cancelled train,” Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy noted.

Allrail calls on priorities

The Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants in Europe (Allrail) has noted that coronavirus will have a great economic impact on the rail sector, especially on non-incumbent operators. Therefore, the association welcomes yesterday’s statement by the EU Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager for a temporary state aid framework to support the economy.

“However, we call on her to prioritise applications according to levels of pollution: the lower the carbon footprint, the higher the priority. We must not lose sight from the fact that, while the pandemic will pass, it will have a lasting economic impact on a sector that is absolutely crucial if Europe is to meet its climate change goals in line with the EU Green Deal,” Allrail stated.

No more trains between Finland and Russia

Today Finland and Russia are suspending the cross-border train traffic. The last high-speed trains are running from the Russian cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg to the Finnish counterpart of Helsinki. The decision was caused by the prohibition of the Russian government for foreigners to enter its territory. The border between countries will be closed for passenger trains until 13 April. This ban does not affect freight transportation.

Telework for Rail Baltica

RB Rail joint venture, the company that is implementing the Rail Baltica railway project, has started to work remotely. It cancelled all the meetings and events starting from 17 March. “While working remotely, we are doing our best to transfer all meetings and events online to ensure uninterrupted implementation of the Project. To ensure continuity of official correspondence, we kindly ask you to send all paper documents also electronically as we may have limited access to letter-mail,” the company noted.

Further cancellations in Czechia

As of today, Czech open-access operator Leo Express has reduced 75 per cent of its trains until 23 March. “This is a really difficult time for Leo Express,” the company stated. Meanwhile, it continues to perform some train connections from Prague to Uherské Hradiště and Bohumín. Leo Express also asks the passengers to wear masks, scarves or shawls. The company expects that some restoration of the train traffic in Czechia could happen only by 7 April.

Slovakia stops Intercity trains

Starting from today, 18 March, Slovak national railway operator ZSSK has cancelled all the Intercity trains in the country. The decision impacts mainly on the traffic between Bratislava and Košice, the largest cities in Slovakia. The deadline for this cancellation will be reported later. It is worth to note that the vast majority of the ZSSK trains are regional and suburban. These types of connections are still available for passengers.

No more food in Polish trains

Polish long-distance operator PKP Intercity has decided to suspend its onboard catering service. Moreover, it plans to cancel some train connections due to the decrease in passenger traffic. Therefore, the company asks the customers to check the actual schedule on its website.

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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