NYE travel chaos on the trains as 23 lines are hit by staff sickness

NYE travel chaos on the trains as 23 lines are hit by staff sickness

December 31, 2021

NYE travel chaos on the trains as 23 operators are hit by staff sickness, shortages and strikes – with commuters facing disruption on HUNDREDS of services into the New Year

  • Most UK train operators have already reduced services or will do so in coming days amid staff shortages
  • Those affected include Southern, ScotRail, Great Western Railway, Northern, Thameslink and Hull Trains
  • Others are East Midlands Railway, Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, Merseyrail and London Northwestern  
  • Rail Delivery Group says 8.9% of all staff across every UK train firm were off sick in the week to Wednesday

Britain’s rail operators are removing hundreds of daily trains from their timetables as the Omicron isolation crisis deepens after weeks of short notice cancellations due to workers being off sick or self-isolating with Covid-19.

A total of 23 UK train companies from Southern to ScotRail and Great Western Railway to Northern have either already reduced services or will do so in the coming days in response to pandemic-related staff shortages.

Among those also impacted include East Midlands Railway, Thameslink, Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, Hull Trains, Merseyrail, London Northwestern Railway, Great Northern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express. 

The Rail Delivery Group said nearly one in ten staff (8.9 per cent) across all UK train firms were off sick in the week to Wednesday due to all causes including Covid. This is up from 8.7 per cent last week and 7.6 per cent last month.

Passengers travelling around the UK on New Year’s Eve today also face major disruption on CrossCountry due to strike action, with the walkout involving train managers and senior conductors in a row over the role of guards. 

In recent weeks rail firms have axed trains at short notice due to staff self-isolating or being unwell. Many have responded by releasing condensed timetables in a bid to create more certainty about which services will operate.

It comes despite the Government last week cutting the self-isolating requirement in England from ten days to seven days for those who have a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven of their quarantine period.

And calls have been growing to cut the isolation period further to five days to protect essential services from staff shortages as record numbers catch the milder Omicron variant, despite ministers pouring cold water on the idea.

Staff shortages mean almost one in 20 train services have been cancelled and a third of London’s fire engines are off the streets, with up to 875,000 people in the UK currently required to remain indoors after testing positive.

Thousands of vital NHS workers are also self-isolating – with the health and social care sectors particularly badly hit by staff shortages, leaving hospitals over-stretched and care homes unable to take in new residents.

As absences linked to the isolation crisis worsen across industries, NHS and business leaders warned that Britain risks being brought to a standstill by soaring cases, a tests shortage and the seven-day quarantine period.

Close to a million employees are now believed to be stuck at home, with restaurants forced to close and deliveries hit by ‘astronomical’ numbers off sick as record numbers catch the milder but more contagious Omicron variant. 

There is also growing pressure on the Government to secure more tests amid soaring demand and a global shortage of supplies, with Wales giving four million rapid lateral flow kits to the NHS in England. It comes as:  

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson will decide next week whether to impose new rules to limit indoor socialising;
  • A further 189,213 coronavirus cases were recorded across the UK yesterday which was a new record high;
  • NHS bosses said the Government must ‘introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed’;
  • Pharmacy bosses revealed more lateral flow tests are now being distributed but supply is ‘still very patchy’;
  • A total of 4,580 NHS staff at hospital trusts in London were absent for Covid-19 reasons on December 26;
  • The Scottish Government issued a last ditch plea to Scots to not attend large-scale New Year’s Eve parties.

The Rail Delivery Group insisted operators were ‘working hard to provide a reliable train service’ amid reduced staff numbers with amended timetables also being brought in ‘owing to much less demand for train services’.  

This graphic by Project Mapping shows the UK rail network split by operators – most of whom are experiencing staffing issues

Passengers walk through London King’s Cross station this morning after arriving on an LNER train from Edinburgh

Train passengers walk through ticket barriers at London King’s Cross railway station this morning on New Year’s Eve

This graphic shows the planned Southern closures until January 4 – a period that has now been extended until January 10

And Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘This is a pragmatic response to rising staff illness. But services must meet the needs of those who still have to travel, especially key sector workers.

‘These include protecting first and last services, providing enough capacity to keep passengers at a safe distance from each other and making the new timetable reliable and the information accurate.’

How Covid-related staff shortages are affecting train services across UK

  • Avanti West Coast: Says it is ‘doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short notice cancellations’. All peak restrictions removed until January 4.
  • c2c: Normal service.
  • Caledonian Sleeper: Normal service.
  • Chiltern Railways: Operator warns it ‘may have to make some short notice changes to our timetable’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 on our train crews’
  • CrossCountry: Removed around 50 trains from its timetables until January 8, and warns of disruption ‘until further notice’. Tells passengers to avoid travelling on New Year’s Eve due to RMT strike.
  • East Midlands Railway: Revised timetable due to a ‘high level of staff sickness including drivers and train crew’. Some services being replaced by buses.
  • Eurostar: Normal service.
  • Gatwick Express: No services ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness’.
  • Grand Central: Normal service.
  • Great Northern: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.
  • Great Western Railway: Cancellations because of ‘rising numbers of staff unavailable to work due to self-isolation requirements’ .
  • Greater Anglia: Some services removed from timetable ‘due to falling passenger numbers and ‘to plan for our staff being affected by the Omicron variant’.
  • Heathrow Express: Normal service.
  • Hull Trains: A temporary timetable will operate until February 12 to ‘minimise disruption’.
  • LNER: Reduced timetable up until at least January 7 ‘due to a shortage of train crew as a result of an increase in the number of staff self-isolating with Covid-19’.
  • London Northwestern Railway: Services are ‘subject to cancellation or alteration’ due to a shortage of train drivers.
  • Lumo: Normal service.
  • Merseyrail: Some trains will be cancelled on certain lines from ‘today until further notice’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 and other sickness affecting staff availability’.
  • Northern: Operating ‘several amended timetables’ because of ‘Covid and its impact on the availability of our train crew’.
  • ScotRail: It is ‘being forced to bring in a temporary timetable’ until January 28 ‘as we continue to see colleagues off sick because of Covid-19’.
  • South Western Railway: Services subject to ‘short-term alterations’ due to the ‘impact of the Omicron variant on staff numbers’ with new timetable coming in January 17.
  • Southeastern: Warns that services may change at short notice if there ‘may be occasions when our staff are sick or self-isolating due to Covid-19’.
  • Southern: Cancels a raft of services and its hub at London Victoria station will stay closed until January 10 ‘owing to the significant ongoing impact of coronavirus’.
  • Stansted Express: Half-hourly service running.
  • Thameslink: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.
  • TransPennine Express: Services may be cancelled at short notice ‘due to lack of available staff’.
  • Transport for London: Delays on Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines due to cancellations.
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: Reduced Metrolink services ‘due to the increasing impact of Covid-19 on tram driver staffing levels’.
  • Transport for Wales: ‘Emergency timetable’ to ‘prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant’.
  • West Midlands Railway: Some trains ‘may be cancelled at short notice’ because ‘many colleagues are currently unable to attend work’.


ScotRail said it will introduce a temporary week-day timetable from Tuesday until January 28 as the Omicron variant has resulted in a ‘large number of absences’.

More than 150 daily services will be cut, including on routes such as Glasgow to Edinburgh via Airdrie/Bathgate; Glasgow Central to Lanark; Edinburgh to North Berwick; and Edinburgh to Tweedbank.

South Western Railway announced it will operate a new timetable from January 17 as the Omicron variant has had a ‘significant impact on our services’.

The operator said in a statement: ‘Our focus is on producing a timetable that is deliverable so that we improve reliability for our customers, and caters to key workers, school pupils and those who cannot work from home.’

It has not revealed which services are being cut.

SWR said it was suffering a shortage of staff ‘across our business’ such as drivers, guards, engineers and controllers.

The firm warned passengers that its services were ‘subject to short-notice cancellations’.

It will introduce a reduced timetable from January 17 in an attempt to improve reliability.

Greater Anglia announced it will not operate approximately 70 week day services next week due to a combination of ‘falling passenger numbers’ and staff shortages.

This will affect routes such as Norwich to London Liverpool Street; Colchester to Ipswich; Cambridge to Ipswich; and Norwich to Great Yarmouth. 

Yesterday, tens of thousands of train passengers in southern England had their plans for the next fortnight thrown into chaos after Southern Rail cancelled a raft of services and said its hub at London Victoria station would stay closed for another ten days.

Some lines in and out of Britain’s second busiest station had been shut over the Christmas period due to Network Rail engineering work, with reduced services rerouted to London Bridge and a planned reopening for January 4.

But Southern then said yesterday that there will be no Southern or Gatwick Express services at London Victoria, Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common until January 10, the start of the second working week of 2021.

The operator said there would also be a reduced service operating on all other routes ‘until further notice owing to the significant ongoing impact of coronavirus ‘, amid high levels of staff sickness and workers self-isolating.

But the decision sparked fury on Twitter, with social media users asking ‘how are essential workers supposed to get to work’ and saying they would be ‘forced’ to get the Underground after the ‘busier trains’ were cancelled.

Others blasted Southern as the ‘worst run train service in the country’, said the firm is ‘chronically understaffed’ and tweeted: ‘Happy New Year from Southern – impossible to get to work, so will have to use annual leave.’

Southern bosses discussed the closures in advance with trade unions and will review their level of services early next week for the period after January 10, with sources saying it was a ‘changing picture day-by-day’.

The operator advised customers still wishing to travel that they could use their tickets with most other transport companies in the area such as London Underground, Transport for London buses and other train operators.

There were no fresh closures or service alterations announced by Southern yesterday – the update was an extension of the changes which were due to have been in place until January 4. 

Customers have been advised to instead use London Bridge or Blackfriars on Thameslink services, and then take Underground services to Victoria if necessary. 

Great Northern, Thameslink and Hull Trains have also unveiled reduced timetables.

CrossCountry has removed around 50 trains from its timetables between Mondays and Saturdays from December 27 until January 8.

The industrial action affecting the firm on New Year’s Eve involves train managers and senior conductors in a row over the role of guards.

CrossCountry said passengers were ‘strongly advised to alter their plans and avoid travel’.  

People walk through London Victoria station on December 23, which is not going to be served by Southern until January 10

It is not operating any trains between these locations: Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby and Nottingham; Peterborough and Stansted; Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot and Paignton; and Plymouth and Penzance.

A ‘heavily reduced service’ is in place between Edinburgh and Plymouth; Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth; and Birmingham New Street and Peterborough. 

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Our colleagues, like those in other industries, have been impacted by the virus.

‘While we’re working hard to provide a reliable train service to key workers and other passengers with reduced staff, some rail companies are introducing amended timetables owing to much less demand for train services.



RMT members employed by Gate Gourmet are also involved in a strike at Edinburgh Waverley on New Year’s Eve today as part of a long-running dispute over allegations of bullying.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The disruption to services from the New Year’s Eve strike action is wholly down to these greedy private companies on our railways seeking to squeeze out every penny they can by hammering down on safety, jobs and workplace dignity.

‘Our members at CrossCountry and Gate Gourmet are standing up for all rail workers as we expect a torrent of attacks on jobs, pay, safety, pensions and working conditions in 2022. We are ready for a new year of campaigning and action on all fronts.’

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