Warning over Metro job losses and heavy service cuts without urgent Government bailout amid crisis

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Lifeline transport services and jobs will be cut unless there is an urgent bailout of the struggling Metro, ministers have been warned.

Politicians have made another desperate plea for the government to hand over at least £10million to help the rail network cope with the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis.

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Metro passenger numbers have dropped more than 90% and more than 600,000 journeys were lost in March as people are urged to stay home and avoid all but essential travel during the pandemic.

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The loss of ticket fare income has been a huge blow and bosses have repeatedly warned that there will be severe long-term consequences for the Metro without government support.

Nexus says it needs a £10million bailout before July to plug the financial black hole and could need even more depending on how long the Covid-19 crisis lasts.

Talks over a rescue deal have been going on for more than two weeks, but ministers have not confirmed that the Department for Transport (DfT) will step in to cover the massive losses.

If cuts need to be made, it is understood the number of Metro trains running at off-peak times could be slashed.

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Councillor Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council and chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “The Government has bailed out the rail industry and bus firms, but seems reluctant to do the same for Metro, despite it forming the backbone of our local public transport networks.

“Metro plays a huge role in the local economy but we urgently need the Government to confirm in writing that it will provide financial support in the same way that it has been prepared to do for bus and national rail operators.

“Failure to do so could lead to long-term service reductions and job losses, at a time when North East England has never needed Metro more.

“We have already taken swift action with Nexus and our county councils in Durham and Northumberland to support bus companies in our region by guaranteeing £53million in future payments, which the Government has backed with its own commitments.

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“I welcome this quick response but in committing millions of pounds of public money into sustaining bus networks, Nexus itself now faces an enormous challenge keeping Metro going, not just for key workers today but in the long term for millions more people who will need it as our economy recovers.”

The Metro costs around £104million a year to run and income from ticket sales is responsible for £48million of that.

Coun Gannon, who has now written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to call for immediate confirmation of financial support, said Metro carries 36million passengers a year with every journey worth £8.50 to the local economy.

“We must not allow services to be cut back and jobs lost in the future because the Government failed to act at a time of crisis,” he said.

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The DfT said last week that it was “working closely with NEXUS to identify solutions”.

The government has been contacted for a further comment.

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