How the Greater Anglia train planning team added 46,000 extra seats into the timetable from 6 July

Published on: Wednesday, 8 July 2020
Last updated: Wednesday, 8 July 2020

  • Behind the Scenes

As the government continues to ease lockdown restrictions, Greater Anglia’s train planning team has been in constant contact with colleagues at the Department for Transport to plan the train operator’s response, and increase services to almost pre-lockdown levels.

From 6 July 2020 this saw an additional 46,000 seats put back into the rail network in East Anglia to help people to maintain social distancing on board as passenger numbers start to build again.

It takes a couple of weeks to get all the necessary clearances, plans and amendments in place to increase the number of trains in the timetable, although it’s more straightforward than reducing the service, explains Keith Palmer, Greater Anglia’s Head of Performance and Planning.

He says, “Our summer timetable was already planned and in the national system even before lockdown began, so in effect, it’s never gone away, but has always been there in the background to revert back to.

“Since March we’ve been bidding a reduced timetable to Network Rail and getting clearance on that every seven days. So, we’ve stopped doing that now and gone back almost to the full timetable that is already in the system, with almost 93% of the normal schedules back in place.”

Government advice at this time is still only to travel by train if necessary, but Greater Anglia’s train planning team were aware of the need to pre-empt an increase in those who have to travel, by having a level of train service ready and waiting to accommodate them.

Greater Anglia re-introduced most of its scheduled services from Monday 6 July, except for a few Norwich – London services and with Stansted Express trains still operating half hourly, not every 15 minutes (because passenger numbers are still so low).

The company will continue to monitor demand on a daily basis and plan for the re-introduction of the remaining intercity and Stansted Express services when appropriate.

The timetable that came into effect from 6 July is expected to continue until at least the autumn, giving stability that will allow Greater Anglia’s train planners to continue to work ahead, plan for any engineering works and organise any other ad hoc amendments as required.

Keith adds that Greater Anglia is in an excellent position moving forward because the company kept half of the planning team working 18-20 weeks ahead and the other half planning for timetable changes to deal with the immediate crisis.

“Because we did that, we were able to create a reduced timetable to deal with the immediate situation, but also plan ahead for a return to normality in line with what we knew from the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown - which always talked about restrictions potentially easing in July.”

“Now we’re in a great position because we kept up with doing the ‘day job’, as well as planning the emergency timetables.

“As we return to some sort of normality, all the hard work the team has put in – both to deal with the immediate crisis and plan for the future - has left us in a good position.”

Working with other teams in the business, Keith and his team are now turning their attention to the challenges of managing incidents and disruption during coronavirus - because this will have to be different to have the best chance of keeping people a safe distance apart during such situations.

Keith comments, “For example, we’ll need to try to avoid cancelling trains and we will have to find bus operators who can provide us with more buses for rail replacement so that we can maintain social distancing on those too.”

Ongoing travel advice

It is mandatory for customers to wear a face covering when using public transport, to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, unless they are exempt. Changes to social distancing measures mean customers will now need to stay at least 1m apart, as well as wearing their face covering.

Greater Anglia has introduced a wide range of measures to make it easier for customers to maintain social distancing at stations and on trains - including floor markings, one-way systems, new signs and queuing systems, as well as marking up benches and waiting rooms to provide guidance on adhering to the guidelines. Hand gel dispensers have also been installed at 20 of the busiest Greater Anglia stations.

People are advised to spend as little time at stations as possible – buying tickets online or via the Greater Anglia app or using contactless payment at vending machines if they have to buy tickets at the station. Customers should use the whole length of the platforms and trains, to ensure they are as spread out as possible, and to stand back to let people off the train before boarding. Passengers are asked to try and travel outside the busiest times (details of the busiest trains are available online) and should remain in their seat until they reach their destination, rather than walking down to the front of the train.

Greater Anglia has also stepped up cleaning on stations and trains, concentrating on high-touch areas such as push buttons, grab rails and door handles.