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    Taxpayer to keep GWR on the rails: Train operators struggle as commuter numbers remain hugely reduced

    The taxpayer bailout of Great Western Railway will continue into next summer – a sign of the havoc coronavirus is wreaking on Britain’s rail networks.

    Train operators have been grappling with hugely reduced commuter numbers and attempts to enforce social distancing on trains since lockdown began in March. 

    Now First Group, which runs GWR trains from London to the likes of Oxford and Penzance, is asking for Government help to continue for at least another ten months.

    Train operators have been grappling with hugely reduced commuter numbers and attempts to enforce social distancing on trains since lockdown began in March

    Attempts to keep rail franchises afloat since the beginning of the pandemic have already cost the Government £3.5billion.

    In March, the Government enforced emergency measures for the franchises, as lockdown forced workers to stay at home and passenger numbers plunged.

    Rather than allowing the rail operators such as First Group to keep any profits from ticket sales, and forcing them to bear any losses, the Department for Transport said it would take on the risk and instead pay the operators a management fee. 

    First Group was originally planning to operate GWR under this arrangement for six months, but it is extending the aid until June 26, 2021. 

    Conditions for the UK’s rail network are set to stay bleak as many city-centre businesses are telling staff to stay at home until next year.

    A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: ‘We are taking decisive action to keep services running during these unprecedented times.’

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