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Bus and rail operator in talks with Government over timetable rule changes

By Simon Neville, PA City Editor

Thameslink and Southeastern rail operator Go-Ahead is in discussions with the Government on relaxing the rules around timetable changes to cope with the conoravirus pandemic.

Chief executive David Brown explained he is hoping to be allowed to make changes faster than the current 70-day notice period.

He told the PA news agency: “We want to be able to respond far quicker. Let’s say everyone wants to travel off-peak, we want to be able to make more services available.”

Commuters continue using public transport, but tourist numbers have fallen (Yui Mok/PA)

The boss added the company has also been liaising with local authorities and Transport for London on contingencies and using lessons Go-Ahead has learned from its international operations in Singapore.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said.

The company said it has already started to see a drop in customers – particularly in tourist hotspots – but with advice to commuters to carry on as usual, overall numbers are holding up.

Bosses at the group added poor weather has seen passenger numbers fall.

The company said: “We also believe coronavirus has affected travel on some of our services, particularly impacting areas most exposed to tourism.”

It comes as bosses revealed they were in the final stages of discussions with the Department for Transport on extending its contract beyond the end of the month.

The business added that revenues for the six months to December 28 hit £1.97 billion, but pre-tax profits fell from £61 million to £49 million during the period.

Chief executive David Brown said: “Our London and international bus business is performing well and in line with expectations for the full year, while our expectations for our regional bus business have slightly reduced, reflecting cost pressures and adverse weather on passenger travel.

“In rail, while we await the outcome of the Williams review, our current UK operations are performing well and we are in the final stages of discussions with the Department for Transport regarding a potential direct award contract for Southeastern.”

The Williams Rail Review was launched by the Government in September 2018 to look at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered.

Mr Brown added: “We have long been campaigning for a national bus strategy to maximise the benefits that buses bring to local communities and society as a whole.

“I’m pleased with the Government’s decision to move forward with such a strategy and its commitment to invest £5 billion in bus and cycle networks in the coming years.”