Covid forces Southern Railway to suspend services at London Victoria

The pandemic has taken its toll on rail services at the UK capital’s second busiest station, with a key operator suspending all its trains to London Victoria, citing coronavirus-related staff absences. Govia Thameslink Railway said its Southern Railway services into and out of Victoria — to places such as Southampton, Brighton and Eastbourne — would be halted until January 10. Its other services, on Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink routes, would run on a reduced weekday timetable until further notice because so many staff were self-isolating or sick with Covid-19.

Gatwick Express, which runs between the airport and London Victoria, will remain suspended after closing for engineering works over the Christmas period. The cancellations highlight how the rapid spread of the more transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant has disrupted sectors across the economy. Angie Doll, interim chief operating officer at GTR, said: “Due to the significant challenges we face with Covid now affecting many of our colleagues, we have taken the decision to operate a reduced train timetable from January.

We’re really sorry if this does affect your journey.” Other rail operators — including Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, Northern, ScotRail, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales — have been forced to cancel trains or adjust services as staffing issues bite. In the seven days up to December 29, the average staff absence across all of the train companies was 8.9 per cent and about one in 20 trains was cancelled, according to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators in the UK.

This is almost double the usual level. “Our staff are working in difficult circumstances and, like everyone else, they are susceptible to the virus,” the RDG said. “We may not be able to run every train we had planned and there might be changes to some services.” On Wednesday, daily Covid-19 cases in the UK soared to 183,037, including new records for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

England has reduced the self-isolation period to seven days in an attempt to limit disruption to public services but ministers have resisted pressure to follow the US in reducing it to five days. As part of the temporary cancellation of Southern services to London Victoria, no trains will call at Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common stations and certain services will be diverted to London Bridge instead. Some rail operators are also facing a challenge in running services due to union action.

The RMT union confirmed that strike action would take place on Friday on CrossCountry Trains and by workers at Edinburgh Waverley station. Elsewhere, the freight rail network has been hit by a separate issue that could exacerbate the country’s supply chain troubles. Metro Shipping, a logistics group, said that a train derailment at the London Gateway port had caused rail services to be suspended from one of the UK’s largest container hubs, putting further pressure on road freight.

DP World, which operates the terminal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.