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Government suspends Greater Anglia rail franchise as coronavirus decimates travel

Greater Anglia's franchise to provide train services through Stansted, Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth has been suspended because of the coronavirus crisis.

The government is taking emergency measures to sustain essential rail services as operators' ticket revenues tumble.

The Department for Transport will temporarily suspend normal franchise agreements and transfer all revenue and cost risk to the government for a limited period, initially six months. Operators will continue to run services day-to-day for a small predetermined management fee.

Grant Shapps (32243351)
Grant Shapps (32243351)

Services on the West Anglia line, in common with other routes across the country, have already been reduced with an hourly service between Cambridge and London Liverpool Street.

The moves are designed to ensure key workers can get to work and essential travel continues, but the message to other passengers is that they should stay at home.

Anyone holding an Advance ticket will be able to refund it free of charge. All season ticket holders can claim a refund for time unused on their tickets free of administrative charges. Ticket holders should contact their operator for details.

The railways have already seen up to a 70% drop in passenger numbers. Rail fares revenue has also reduced as people increasingly work from home and adopt social distancing, with total ticket sales down by two-thirds from the equivalent date in 2019.

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said: "We are taking this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus, and the frontline rail staff who are keeping the country moving.

"People deserve certainty that the services they need will run or that their job is not at risk in these unprecedented times. We are also helping passengers get refunds on Advance tickets to ensure no-one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing.

"These offers will give operators the confidence and certainty so they can play their part in the national interest."

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: "The rail industry is working together so that people and goods can keep making essential journeys during this unprecedented national challenge, getting key workers to hospitals, food to shops and fuel to power stations.

"The industry strongly welcomes the Department for Transport's offer of temporary support and while we need to finalise the details, this will ensure that train companies can focus all their efforts on delivering a vital service at a time of national need.

"We would like to thank our people, who continue to do an incredible job in difficult circumstances."

Essex County Council has agreed with bus operators that holders of its concessionary bus passes will be able to use them to travel free all day instead of after 9am so they can access services at supermarkets, banks and other providers for the elderly and vulnerable.

Bus operators in Herts and Essex have introduced emergency timetables to reflect the reduced demand for travel.

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