Metro sets date for 'returning to normal' services as lockdown eases - but many measures will remain in place
Metro services will be fully operational again by the time shops reopen in April, transport chiefs have said.
The struggling rail network, which has needed more than £40million of Government funding to keep it going during the pandemic, has been running a reduced timetable since late November due to a shortage of drivers.
Metro bosses have had to contend for years with the problem of train drivers being regularly lured away by rival operators offering higher salaries, a situation worsened when a training programme for 16 new drivers had to be cancelled last May because of the first Covid-19 lockdown.
Thirty new recruits were taken on last September, but it takes six months to train them up – meaning that 20% of train services have had to be cut from the timetable.
But Nexus chief operating officer Martin Kearney told councillors on Thursday that a full timetable will resume on Sunday, April 11, the day before the second phase of the government’s lockdown exit roadmap is due to begin.
Non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure facilities are set to reopen on April 12 for the first time in more than three months, while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to operate an outdoor service.
Mr Kearney told the North East Joint Transport Committee’s overview and scrutiny panel: “A full timetable will resume on April 11.
"The committee will be aware we are currently operating a winter timetable, allowing us to train up driver numbers due to cancelled schools last year that were unable to operate due to the Covid lockdown.
“So we are now nearing a full complement of driver resource and we are performing very well at the moment, better since about 2017 at this stage, and we are ready to welcome customers back from the 12th when non-essential retail reopens.”
Last week, it was confirmed that the Metro has secured an additional £8million government grant that will allow it to keep trains running at reduced passenger levels until June 21.
At the height of the first lockdown, Metro passenger numbers had dipped by 95% and the network was losing almost £1million a week.
Ridership levels are now at around 30% of normal, ahead of a change in government guidance on Monday, March 29 – from which point the stay at home order will end, with people instead advised to stay local and minimise the number of journeys that they make.
Nexus customer services director, Huw Lewis, said: “A fully Covid-secure transport system is in place for when people need to use it. Passengers can have the confidence to make safe journeys on local bus, Metro and rail services.
“The legal requirement to stay at home will end from Monday, 29 March, but the Government is still asking people to minimise travel wherever this is possible.
“This is the latest step on the roadmap out of lockdown and we expect to see passenger numbers rise as measures ease further over the coming weeks and months.
“On Metro we have put in place a range of Covid-secure features as we look to build back from the pandemic.
“These measures include signage and queueing systems, extra deep cleaning on a daily basis with disinfectant, the use of a specialist anti-microbial spray to protect high touch surfaces for 28 days, UV light sanitisers on escalators, and hand sanitiser points at key locations.
“People must continue to wear a face covering when travelling, unless exempt, and should continue to follow floor and wall markings in order to maintain social distancing. Travel outside of peak periods where possible.”