The on-board safety of their passengers is really important to the specialist train companies and train tour operators. Railway Traveller spoke exclusively to the bosses of three of the UK’s leading specialist rail travel companies to see how they think Covid-19 has affected train travel and why they think travelling by rail is safer than by air.
Peter Liney, CEO, Great Rail Journeys
Maria Cook, General Manager, Ffestiniog Travel
Guy Saunders, Managing Director, Planet Rail
How badly has the coronavirus pandemic affected train travel?
PL: The recent lockdown has impacted the travel industry as a whole greatly, with the nation required to stay home and many holidays cancelled. In recent months, the government’s policy on quarantine has been inconsistent and confusing from the onset, with us now facing weekly ‘in and out’ announcements causing both chaos and great cost.
From a rail perspective, the introduction of France and the Netherlands to the quarantine list has resulted in our European tours to be placed on hold until further notice, leaving many travellers disappointed. The debacle of quarantine systematically undermines any hope of our sector’s recovery and this blunt instrument of blanket quarantines must stop.
MC: Very badly. We have found that our 50+ customers would rather forgo their holiday this year than travel under the threat of coronavirus.
GS: It has severely damaged holidays by rail because of the quarantine rules imposed by the UK government on traveller’s returning from Belgium and France. However, many people are still very keen to travel so it will come back quickly once it is deemed safe and/or we have a vaccine.
Is it easier to travel on a train wearing a mask than on a plane?
PL: Recent survey results have shown that holidaymakers feel safer travelling by rail than other modes of transport. Travellers have highlighted that they feel more concerned travelling through an airport and on a plane (56%) than through a railway station and on a train (22%), demonstrating the appetite for rail travel*.
*According to insights from Great Rail Journey’s consumer buying intentions survey of 4,500 adults in August 2020.
MC: Yes, because there is more ventilation on trains.
GS: Yes, because you have a lot more room to move around and more space between passengers. You can also open windows on most trains to allow fresh air to circulate.
How can train companies help make passengers on board feel safe?
PL: At Great Rail Journeys we understand that people are very much looking forward to being able to enjoy the freedom to travel again, but the safety of our customers remains our number one priority.
We’re continuously working with our partners around the world to ensure we have implemented the necessary practical measures to offer travellers the reassurance they need to feel comfortable each step of their journey. In an industry-first, we are also the first premium escorted tour provider to offer small groups as standard across all UK and Europe 2021 rail holidays, ensuring a maximum of 25 people on each tour, for a more intimate experience.
We have also introduced additional measures to guarantee customer confidence when travelling with us, including a new update to our travel insurance policy to ensure customers receive Covid-19 cover as standard, with no increase in the price of the policy.
MC: By sticking to the rules and ensuring everyone on board wears a mask, stays socially distanced and uses hand sanitisers
GS: By ensuring travellers are able to socially distance where required. Temperature checks and testing before departure could be a game changer, for example on Eurostar.
Do you think Coronavirus will change the way we travel by train?
PL: Even ahead of the Coronavirus pandemic, travel by rail was growing in popularity as it offers a fantastic way to see the world. At Great Rail Journeys we have seen a real growth in demand for flight-free holidays over the past 18 months particularly due to an increased awareness of sustainable travel and the ease of travelling in Europe by rail.
MC: In the short term, yes. Buffet cars won’t be open on board but the trains will be quieter because they are less passengers so it’s actually not a bad time to travel.
GS: Rail travel was already on an upward curve because of the benefit to the environment compared to flying. I think it (the Coronavirus situation) will make rail travel even more popular as it is seen as a far safer option than flying.