The government says you should not travel unless it is essential but Shaftesbury area residents who need to get to London will face extra challenges from tomorrow, Monday. Alfred hears at how the coronavirus is affecting our train and bus services.
Roy Mitchell was a public transport manager for 37 years before he moved to Shaftesbury. He represents our town on the Salisbury to Exeter Rail Users Group. As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, it is likely that more bus drivers will self-isolate but, at the moment, Roy says the routes in and around Shaftesbury are being maintained.
“There is no change to the services that operate within Shaftesbury. Both South West Coaches and Salisbury Reds are making every effort to keep their service running,” said Roy. “They’ll update any changes on a website and I’ll find out and let Alfred know as well. They’re currently running the normal services that appertain to a school holiday. Of course, schools broke up on Friday.”
From Monday, the timetables will take that into account, but Roy says in a rural area like ours it won’t make a major difference. “There are some minor re-timings. In the afternoon, the buses that would go through Shaftesbury School won’t now, they’ll just go out onto the main road. South West Coaches are making every effort to keep their services running as well. They are conscious of how vital they are for people to get to work,” said Roy.
He says both operators serving Shaftesbury have appealed to the public not to use coins when buying tickets. “If people could pay by debit or credit card rather than by cash, that reduces the cash handling required by the drivers.”
The railway service from Gillingham and Tisbury is changing quite substantially. “People may remember the strike that took place last year, when an emergency timetable was put out. A similar timetable will start from Monday. It is fundamentally different. Trains will run every two hours from Gillingham to Salisbury. They will connect with an hourly train service from Salisbury to London. On the other way, they will be every two hours to Exeter, and they will run over a shorter period of time in the day,” said Roy.
He gave an example. “From Gillingham going to Salisbury and towards London, the first train will be at 6.37am. There will be one at 8.21am and then one at 10.37am and every two hours until 8.37pm. There’s about a twenty-minute wait at Salisbury before the train to London,” he said.
Roy says this strike period schedule has had an unusual effect on service punctuality. “Because there were far fewer trains, they were actually very reliable because there wasn’t congestion on platforms. There was room to get through the single line track at Tisbury.” But Roy warns that the journey time to London will be longer. “From Gillingham it will take two-and-a-half hours,” he said.
And Roy says services will stop earlier in the evening. “The last train back from London will be at 7.20pm. They start in the morning from London at 7.10am and run every two hours. That 7.20pm service only goes as far as Yeovil Junction.”
Roy says the last train is so early because there’s engineering work scheduled for the next week, but he doesn’t expect the later service to be reinstated. “If they can staff this train level, I’m hoping it will continue for a couple weeks. We’ll have to see what happens after that point, but I don’t see any dramatic improvements taking place. It is possible to make a nine-coach train and triple your capacity of the normal three-coach unit,” says Roy. That could mean that there is still the same number of seats available if anyone is still travelling.
Roy is not aware of any price changes, but he warned, “I can’t imagine they’ll be offering discounted fares and advance fares on journeys that might not run in the future. People should expect to pay the normal day return and period return fare.”
Roy says he’ll keep Alfred listeners informed about any changes to bus and rail services, bearing in mind that the government is keen to discourage any non-essential journeys.