Long term social distancing: Impact on public life & public transport?

Cardiff123

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Social and physical distancing (e.g. being at least 2 metres away from the next person at all times) could be here to stay for the next 2+ years, or until a vaccine / effective drug treatment for Covid-19 is developed. I think it's becoming increasingly clear that even once the current 'lockdown' is lifted, it will be a very long time, we're talking years, before life fully returns to normal as we knew it.

So how will long term physical & social distancing be implemented on public transport? I'm guessing that on trains and buses, it would have to be no more than 1 person in two airline seats, people only allowed to sit in every other row, only one person allowed around a table of four. In other words, capacity will be at least halved.

Will implementing long term distancing measures like this on public transport even be feasible?

Here's two articles that are suggesting that long term social distancing could be here to stay (The Times article is about Ireland):

Physical distancing measures may need to be in place intermittently until 2022, scientists have warned in an analysis that suggests there could be resurgences of Covid-19 for years to come.

The paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that a one-time lockdown will not be sufficient to bring the pandemic under control and that secondary peaks could be larger than the current one without continued restrictions.

One scenario predicted a resurgence could occur as far in the future as 2025 in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment.

“Predicting the end of the pandemic in the summer [of 2020] is not consistent with what we know about the spread of infections.”

Papers released by the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) in March suggested that the UK would need to alternate between periods of more and less strict physical distancing measures for a year to have a plausible chance of keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity.
Social distancing measures will be “part of life” until a treatment or vaccine for Covid-19 is developed, the minister for health said yesterday as the number of cases passed 10,000.

Simon Harris said that the country will not get to “a point in three and a half weeks where things are going to return to normal”.

Government restrictions to slow the spread of the virus are in place until May 5, but both Mr Harris and Dr Colm Henry, the chief clinical officer of the HSE, indicated yesterday that some measures to curtail the virus may be necessary for months, and possibly even longer.

Virologists have said previously that a vaccine is unlikely to be developed in less than a year.

Dr Henry said modelling shows the virus is “extremely sensitive” to any “tightening or loosening of those social measures”.

He said we have “beaten down” the curve and the aim is to “crush” it in the coming weeks. Yet if people then “decided to congregate on beaches or in football stadiums” the curve “would go rapidly up again,” Dr Henry said.
He said that in Ireland or internationally experts are not “looking at a peak, a fall, then back to normal. That’s not a plausible narrative any more.”
 
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Bald Rick

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Doable on long distance trains - make them compulsory reservation only, and only sell seats appropriately to the distancing required.

Not doable on anything else. For evidence, look how social distancing was on the tube 2 weeks ago.
 

Huntergreed

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I would imagine that until a vaccine is found then the use of public transport will be for “essential work” travel only, where work can’t be done from home. If this is the case, then this could be manageable although that depends on how many will need to commute and can’t work from home.

I can’t see a full timetable being reinstated or needed until late 2021/2022.
 

6862

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I would imagine that until a vaccine is found then the use of public transport will be for “essential work” travel only, where work can’t be done from home. If this is the case, then this could be manageable although that depends on how many will need to commute and can’t work from home.

I can’t see a full timetable being reinstated or needed until late 2021/2022.
I agree that this seems a likely and necessary response - but what will happen to the millions of non-car owners in the country? Would we be expected to spend Christmas etc. away from family? I for one hope to return home as soon as possible (was visiting my parents at the time of the lockdown and hence am stuck here) but when I do go back I could be unable to visit them again for 2 years...

One of the many ways in which life will be worse if this is ever over.
 

bramling

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I would imagine that until a vaccine is found then the use of public transport will be for “essential work” travel only, where work can’t be done from home. If this is the case, then this could be manageable although that depends on how many will need to commute and can’t work from home.

I can’t see a full timetable being reinstated or needed until late 2021/2022.
With regard to restoring a full timetable, there's four factors which are going to prove challenging:

1) Those shielding - no one knows at present when they are going to be back, and it's looking likely that 12 weeks is going to be just the start
2) Sickness levels for CV19 and what this will be a couple of months from now
3) Annual leave outstanding from now and the effect this is going to have on coverage
4) There is now essentially no training going on, which is going to have an impact on coverage both in terms of numbers available and possibly people going out of licence. If someone gives notice now who is going to replace them?

It's very hard to predict how these four factors will interact.

I do think some people are under the impression that it will be possible to flick some magic switch and the timetable can go back to normal. Some places might be fortunate and be able to do it fairly easily, but for sure there's going to places which won't be able to.
 

farleigh

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I think that Bramling makes good points above. I commuted by train until recently but shall be investing in a new car for my commute when things return to normal. I don't really want to as I can work on the train, but if I can't rely on the trains running when I return to full time work then I have little choice.
 

Qwerty133

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The approaches taken on different types of public transport are almost certainly going to have to be different. While it is probably feasible to restrict intercity train services to those making essential journeys (which in the medium term will not just be work related but also include medical reasons, people returning to and from family homes, funerals (and possibly weddings), and potentially a limited degree of visiting family) it is not appropriate to take the same approach for rural bus services for which it is almost certainly going to be necessary to return to almost normal usage in the not to distant future. I would suggest that the medium term plan will be something along the following lines.

Intercity Trains:
Reduced service operating between 6am and 7pm, with early morning and evening services reserved for work related travel including commuting where necessary. All other services will be available to anyone making a necessary journey including reasons such as funerals and single journeys to move between places of residence (such as university students returning to the family home).
Commuter Trains:
to and from London:
Essential, work related journeys only during peak hours with other travel being heavily discouraged at any time (but permitted off peak for other essential journeys such as medical need and attending funerals (explicitly excluding shopping))
Outside of London: Essential work and education related journeys only during peak hours, with trains at other times being open to others travelling to their nearest major centre only for any reasonable purpose.
Rural trains: Where duplicated by buses services will not run to enable resourcing of other services, where stations are not accessible by bus trains will run and be available to those with any reasonable purpose to travel to their nearest large town or city (or smaller towns in nearer proximity where appropriate).
Buses:
Within London:
All buses open to those travelling to and from essential work only. In outer areas where facilities within walking distance are poor other journeys may be permitted during off peak hours on a route by route basis. Concessionary passes suspended to encourage reduction in non essential journeys.
In Other Large Cities: Peak hours reserved for essential commuting with services outside of peak open to all with reasonable purpose. Concessionary passes suspended to encourage reduction in non essential journeys.
Rural Areas: Near normal service, with route by route restrictions during peak hours if necessary. Local concessionary passes to be valid on the basis of extremely poor local facilities and level of service being low enough to discourage discretionary travel.
 

Huntergreed

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Rural trains: Where duplicated by buses services will not run to enable resourcing of other services, where stations are not accessible by bus trains will run and be available to those with any reasonable purpose to travel to their nearest large town or city (or smaller towns in nearer proximity where appropriate).
My fear with this in my local area (Dumfries and Galloway) is that once this is done, there will be little merit seen in reinstating the rail services once this situation calms down, trains down here are far quicker, more comfortable, easier to space out on, and easier to make connections with than buses and I wouldn’t like to think that we would lose our services because of this situation.
 

Bantamzen

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My fear with this in my local area (Dumfries and Galloway) is that once this is done, there will be little merit seen in reinstating the rail services once this situation calms down, trains down here are far quicker, more comfortable, easier to space out on, and easier to make connections with than buses and I wouldn’t like to think that we would lose our services because of this situation.
It won't just be your local services hit, these kind of proposals would effectively kill the public transport industry off almost completely. Social distancing is constantly touted as the only way to control the spread by experts, but what these experts constantly ignore is the economic & social impacts this would have. Put simply, in the industrialised world, social distancing can only be used as a short term measure to allow other mitigations to be brought into place. People will have to go to work, they will have to shop, they will have to visit friends and family, and yes they will have to be able to enjoy leisure time away from their homes. Public transport is key in all this, so social distancing is not a viable way forward. We will need to enforce our hygiene habits for example, and be more disciplined in staying at home when displaying symptoms for sure, but we can't go as far as is being proposed on this thread.
 

yorksrob

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Yes, I'm afraid that if a vaccine/treatments are a longish way off, social distancing for ever more simply isn't viable. Other ways of controlling the spread of the virus are likely to have to be found. I suspect it will be a case of learning best practice from other countries and how they avoid second waves.
 

daodao

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Covid-19 is likely to be the death knell for many public transport services.

Major urban routes (rail and bus) will survive, and vital links (air/boat) to offshore islands will be retained (at the taxpayers' expense). However, other services will be hard hit, including rural and outer suburban low frequency buses and rural rail services, where services are often carrying fresh air and car use is much easier. Localism will increase and there is also likely to be less future demand for long-distance rail travel, which calls into question the need for and likely viability of HS2. Much greater use will be made of video-conferencing and staycations.

In continental Europe, the remaining cross-border passenger train services will be particularly hard hit. Many international services have been cut back or discontinued in recent years (judging by services operating in 1995 that are no longer extant), and nearly all are now suspended; few are likely to restart, particularly long-distance ones, although local links, e.g. between Alsace and Germany, will almost certainly restart.
 

Bald Rick

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Covid-19 is likely to be the death knell for many public transport services.

Major urban routes (rail and bus) will survive, and vital links (air/boat) to offshore islands will be retained (at the taxpayers' expense). However, other services will be hard hit, including rural and outer suburban low frequency buses and rural rail services, where services are often carrying fresh air and car use is much easier. Localism will increase and there is also likely to be less future demand for long-distance rail travel, which calls into question the need for and likely viability of HS2. Much greater use will be made of video-conferencing and staycations.

In continental Europe, the remaining cross-border passenger train services will be particularly hard hit. Many international services have been cut back or discontinued in recent years (judging by services operating in 1995 that are no longer extant), and nearly all are now suspended; few are likely to restart, particularly long-distance ones, although local links, e.g. between Alsace and Germany, will almost certainly restart.
This is all your own theory / opinion. None of it is fact, indeed we won’t know what happens for some time. There are plenty of other scenarios. One well respected study issued a couple of days ago suggests that as a result of structural changes to the airline industry, and changes to societal views on climate change, the demand for long distance rail travel will significantly increase, particularly in Europe and China.

The fact that HS2 this morning has been given the go ahead to start construction, suggests that the need for it is not being called into question.
 

Huntergreed

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Covid-19 is likely to be the death knell for many public transport services.

Major urban routes (rail and bus) will survive, and vital links (air/boat) to offshore islands will be retained (at the taxpayers' expense). However, other services will be hard hit, including rural and outer suburban low frequency buses and rural rail services, where services are often carrying fresh air and car use is much easier. Localism will increase and there is also likely to be less future demand for long-distance rail travel, which calls into question the need for and likely viability of HS2. Much greater use will be made of video-conferencing and staycations.

In continental Europe, the remaining cross-border passenger train services will be particularly hard hit. Many international services have been cut back or discontinued in recent years (judging by services operating in 1995 that are no longer extant), and nearly all are now suspended; few are likely to restart, particularly long-distance ones, although local links, e.g. between Alsace and Germany, will almost certainly restart.
On the contrary I would argue that once this is over there will be an initially huge increase in demand for all services. Not everyone is able to afford a car or is able to learn to drive, and in rural areas public transport is absolutely a necessity for those people, and I would say this, combined with the airline situation and people wanting to visit family and spend some time away from their hometown will cause a huge boom in initial rail travel.
 

CaptainHaddock

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Yes, I'm afraid that if a vaccine/treatments are a longish way off, social distancing for ever more simply isn't viable. Other ways of controlling the spread of the virus are likely to have to be found. I suspect it will be a case of learning best practice from other countries and how they avoid second waves.
Indeed. My commute into Leeds is on a two-coach 150 or 158 and, if the two metre rule were rigourously applied would mean no more than 40 passengers would be allowed on the train. Given that, up until the lockdown, peak time trains were carrying in excess of 200 commuters, that simply wouldn't be practical.

We'll just have to accept that social distancing isn't possible on public transport and leave it up to the individual as to whether or not it's worth the risk - remember the two metre rule is a recommendation, not a law.
 

yorksrob

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Indeed. My commute into Leeds is on a two-coach 150 or 158 and, if the two metre rule were rigourously applied would mean no more than 40 passengers would be allowed on the train. Given that, up until the lockdown, peak time trains were carrying in excess of 200 commuters, that simply wouldn't be practical.

We'll just have to accept that social distancing isn't possible on public transport and leave it up to the individual as to whether or not it's worth the risk - remember the two metre rule is a recommendation, not a law.
Indeed. The debate about face masks is an example of how society may start to look at ways of managing the risks of being in proximity.
 

C J Snarzell

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It was only a few months ago that I was using the TPE service between Manchester & Leeds and the coaches resembled a cattle truck with bodies everywhere - people were literally stood in any available space and I remember thinking at the time that the health & safety was abysmal.

There is absolutely no way overcrowding on trains can be allowed once the first stages of the exit strategy are implemented. TOC's will seriously need to review how they manage passengers numbers and logistically it will be a nightmare.

For example, as another forum member has stated - would trains only allow pre-booked reservations so they can streamline who travels on the service? What that might mean is that the larger stations would need to be tightly controlled with only essential travellers getting through to the platform areas ready to board their respective trains. Therefore a station like York would need to be ungraded as there are no barriers in place anywhere.

The small backwater stations would be a problem - maybe train managers & conductors would have to confirm seating reservations before letting people onboard & this would mean train times increase as more time will need to be allowed at station stops to check seating reservations. Again could passengers exiting & boarding trains be segregated? For example, passengers would only be allowed to exit a train from certain doors & other doors would be used for boarding only. What this would mean is that passengers on platforms would not be coming into contact with passengers filtering off a stationary training while waiting to board themselves.

On the flipside to this idea - revenue protection as we know it would become redundant as no one will be able to travel because they will always have to produce proof of travel to get on any train.

The problem will come with things like football fixtures, music concerts or festivals which attract thousands of people who use rail services. I assume these events will not be allowed for sometime to come because the mass gathering of thousands of people is just not safe - my guess is 2021 at least before we see the likes of Old Trafford open it's door again. Therefore, the points I raised would only work in a interim period while certain aspects of the exit strategy are in place.

CJ
 

Bletchleyite

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I think, as people on here often do, you're taking the view that a perfect solution must be found. I don't really agree that it must. Just implementing compulsory reservations (and potentially blocking some seats) would solve the vast majority of the problem on the vast majority of trains. If a few people got on anyway, it wouldn't make an appreciable difference - most people will comply.

It's exactly the same with the lockdown - the odd few who aren't now complying aren't making an appreciable difference to spread.
 

Meerkat

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If WFH recommendation is maintained, and most shops stay shut, how busy will trains get if they try to run full service?
 

PTR 444

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It was only a few months ago that I was using the TPE service between Manchester & Leeds and the coaches resembled a cattle truck with bodies everywhere - people were literally stood in any available space and I remember thinking at the time that the health & safety was abysmal.

There is absolutely no way overcrowding on trains can be allowed once the first stages of the exit strategy are implemented. TOC's will seriously need to review how they manage passengers numbers and logistically it will be a nightmare.

For example, as another forum member has stated - would trains only allow pre-booked reservations so they can streamline who travels on the service? What that might mean is that the larger stations would need to be tightly controlled with only essential travellers getting through to the platform areas ready to board their respective trains. Therefore a station like York would need to be ungraded as there are no barriers in place anywhere.

The small backwater stations would be a problem - maybe train managers & conductors would have to confirm seating reservations before letting people onboard & this would mean train times increase as more time will need to be allowed at station stops to check seating reservations. Again could passengers exiting & boarding trains be segregated? For example, passengers would only be allowed to exit a train from certain doors & other doors would be used for boarding only. What this would mean is that passengers on platforms would not be coming into contact with passengers filtering off a stationary training while waiting to board themselves.

On the flipside to this idea - revenue protection as we know it would become redundant as no one will be able to travel because they will always have to produce proof of travel to get on any train.

The problem will come with things like football fixtures, music concerts or festivals which attract thousands of people who use rail services. I assume these events will not be allowed for sometime to come because the mass gathering of thousands of people is just not safe - my guess is 2021 at least before we see the likes of Old Trafford open it's door again. Therefore, the points I raised would only work in a interim period while certain aspects of the exit strategy are in place.

CJ
I think best way to maintain social distancing in the medium - long term would be to lengthen trains to 10-12 car and limit each row of seats to 1 person maximum. There should be plenty of unused stock lying around to make this possible.
 

Bald Rick

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I think best way to maintain social distancing in the medium - long term would be to lengthen trains to 10-12 car and limit each row of seats to 1 person maximum. There should be plenty of unused stock lying around to make this possible.
Are there plenty of unused platforms too?
 

baz962

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I think best way to maintain social distancing in the medium - long term would be to lengthen trains to 10-12 car and limit each row of seats to 1 person maximum. There should be plenty of unused stock lying around to make this possible.
Blimey . I would have five to seven coaches off of every platform
 

squizzler

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This is all your own theory / opinion. None of it is fact, indeed we won’t know what happens for some time. There are plenty of other scenarios. One well respected study issued a couple of days ago suggests that as a result of structural changes to the airline industry, and changes to societal views on climate change, the demand for long distance rail travel will significantly increase, particularly in Europe and China.

The fact that HS2 this morning has been given the go ahead to start construction, suggests that the need for it is not being called into question.
Quite so. This seems more a reason to for the more extreme elements of the motoring community to revive those 1980's tropes that used to imply that public transport is for dirty peasants, with an added dash of 'I told you so'.

The fact of the matter is that if it is deemed unsafe to use trains, it would also be deemed unsafe to have the usual number of people in offices, shops, visitor attractions. All the places that people would be going to basically, and being a motorist is not going to change the fact that you cannot visit anything not deemed essential.

The climate emergency is not going away and we need to reconfigure our whole society to low carbon. Coronavirus is just a warm-up act before that main event.
 

Greybeard33

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We should remember that the purpose of social distancing is to reduce the average transmission rate of the virus in the community, not to stop all infections. The 2m "rule" is a simple way to achieve this over the population as a whole, but the science does not say that you will definitely catch the virus if you sit next to/opposite an infected individual on a train, or even if you stand next to them in a crush loaded carriage. The risk of transmission increases the closer you are and the longer you spend in proximity, so an intercity journey is riskier than a short commute if other factors are equal.

The risks can be reduced by hand hygene and by (properly used) face masks. One measure that could be implemented would be hand gel dispensers in every carriage vestibule, as well as frequent washing of all handholds, grab rails and door buttons.

Considering that public transport use is likely to recover only slowly as restrictions are relaxed, it might well be possible to waive the 2m rule for public transport users. This would not have much effect on the average virus transmission rate across the population as a whole.
 

Qwerty133

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The problem will come with things like football fixtures, music concerts or festivals which attract thousands of people who use rail services. I assume these events will not be allowed for sometime to come because the mass gathering of thousands of people is just not safe - my guess is 2021 at least before we see the likes of Old Trafford open it's door again. Therefore, the points I raised would only work in a interim period while certain aspects of the exit strategy are in place.
I personally think the risk at most sporting fixtures have been grossly exaggerated. The vast majority of people will enter through a door close to their seat proceed straight to there seat and remain there until they leave meaning they only come into close contact with a very small number of people (and in most cases an even smaller number of households). Yes there will have to be long term restrictions on events such as music festivals where everyone is constantly pushing and shoving each other to get to the front but there is probably more risk to most from a family wedding than a football match. The only potential issue with sporting events was in the early stage where people travelling may have allowed the virus to spread to different parts of the country (and indirect impacts on resource utilisation), but even then the impacts could be mitigated by allowing only locals to attend games (which for most clubs outside of the big 4 will have only a limited impact).
 

Mat17

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Well I was a regular bus commuter until March 23rd. Even on a lighter used route, with numbers dropping off significantly as the distancing measures and non-essential travel wound down, I struggled to even grasp how your average single-decker bus could be realistically used with the 2m rule. There was no way you could have more than about 10 or 12 passengers (very strategically placed) to ensure fully compliance with the advised rule. Based on the Stagecoach buses around my area it literally would be seat a person, miss out two rows and seat the next. Or at best, alternate nearside and offside every other row, so long as all people are sat in window seats. Of course as soon as someone near the back wants to get off and walks down the aisle to the front, they are within two metres of everyone they pass!

Beyond that, I just don't see how companies could justify economically running around a full sized bus for a dozen people. Worse still if you live on an hourly route as I do. If you're not at the beginning of the route and the bus gets to full quota before it gets to your stop, you're snookered. There's an hour wait, if you can even get on the next one. Luckily, as I can drive I've managed to find an alternative solution, but where does this leave those who don't have access to a car?

I figure trains would be in exactly the same kind of position, but as someone pointed out earlier they could be for reserved passengers only. Can't really do that with a bus service though, perhaps?

I suspect some places could lose services through this pandemic and never see them restored.
 

bramling

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We should remember that the purpose of social distancing is to reduce the average transmission rate of the virus in the community, not to stop all infections. The 2m "rule" is a simple way to achieve this over the population as a whole, but the science does not say that you will definitely catch the virus if you sit next to/opposite an infected individual on a train, or even if you stand next to them in a crush loaded carriage. The risk of transmission increases the closer you are and the longer you spend in proximity, so an intercity journey is riskier than a short commute if other factors are equal.

The risks can be reduced by hand hygene and by (properly used) face masks. One measure that could be implemented would be hand gel dispensers in every carriage vestibule, as well as frequent washing of all handholds, grab rails and door buttons.

Considering that public transport use is likely to recover only slowly as restrictions are relaxed, it might well be possible to waive the 2m rule for public transport users. This would not have much effect on the average virus transmission rate across the population as a whole.
I suspect what people will find difficult is the idea that it’s presumably possible to follow all the precautions, then have someone come and cough nearby and negate all of that. The difficulty is that this scenario is largely beyond one’s direct control.

Knowing how disgusting some of the population are, I just don’t trust enough people to conduct themselves appropriately. I’m happy travelling to work by train at the moment as the measures are mitigating all this to a level I’m content with, but I probably wouldn’t be happy were things more of a free-for-all.

Personally I’m not massively bothered about getting it myself as I’m a low risk profile (although with there being some debate about this I’d *prefer* not to take the chance if I don’t need to). However another member of my household is a higher risk though not sufficiently high enough to be shielded, the possibility of transmitting it there bothers me more.

Likewise if I were in my late 50s or early 60s or overweight / bordering on diabetic / etc I’d me very wary about going on a modestly loaded train. Unfortunately key workers tend to have a disproportionate number in that bracket.

As an aside, to add to my previous list of issues which will make it challenging to revert to normal timetables, there’s a few people at many place taking the opportunity to bring forward retirement. Again this will prove a problem with no training taking place as replacement could be some time away.
 

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