Train operator LNER has been accused of issuing “inaccurate advice” to passengers by saying it can operate its services under English virus guidance while in Scotland, in a row that sparked angry responses from Scottish Government ministers.
The train company contacted customers to let them know that social distancing was no longer required on trains south of the border from Monday, following an easing of England’s coronavirus restrictions.
However LNER also said they had “reached an agreement with Transport Scotland” so that passengers coming from England wouldn’t necessarily be socially distanced even in Scotland where it is still a requirement.
This prompted a furious outburst from Scottish ministers including Angus Robertson and Michael Matheson who branded the move “unacceptable”.
This is unacceptable. @LNER services operating in Scotland should comply with the @scotgov public health guidance. I’ve asked Transport Scotland officials to address this point with LNER. https://t.co/fyUCcrkZZl
— Michael Matheson MSP (@MathesonMichael) July 19, 2021
“LNER is a train company owned by the UK Government” wrote Edinburgh MSP Mr Robertson.
“Is it still maintaining that when it operates in Scotland it is going to disregard Scottish public health and safety coronavirus rules?
“This is as tenable as Boris Johnson’s exemption from social distancing regulation.”
Transport secretary Mr Matheson said that LNER services “operating in Scotland should comply with the Scottish government public health guidance.”
Transport Scotland disputes LNER’s claims
In a statement issued to us on Monday, Transport Scotland disputes LNER’s claims that they made any deal with the train operator to adhere to relaxed English coronavirus rules on services in Scotland.
LNER said it “made the decision to operate under English guidance, with regards to social distancing on cross border services, to provide consistency to customers”.
But Transport Scotland says operators providing a public transport service in Scotland should comply with the law.
A spokesman said: “The law is clear that social distancing is required on public transport, including on cross-border services.
“Under paragraph 3 (1) (1) of schedule one of the local levels regulations, anyone operating a business or providing a service in a level zero area is required to take measures, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure one metre physical distance is maintained.
“It is our expectation that operators providing a public transport service in Scotland to comply with the law as far as is reasonably practical and inform passengers using their services.
He continued: “This issue was flagged with LNER in advance of changes to restrictions in England and Scotland coming into force on July 19.
“Transport Scotland officials received assurance from LNER on Friday that their messages to customers would be changed to reflect and respect Scottish Government law and guidance.
“It is not acceptable that LNER has continued to issue inaccurate advice.”
Transport Scotland says they will talk to LNER again about the issue “as a matter of urgency” to ensure their approach is “consistent” with Scottish restrictions.
LNER “reviewing approach” to social distancing
LNER says it is doing all it can to help its customers “plan ahead and travel in confidence”, and highlighted a number of measures it has taken to reduce the spread of Covid.
But it said its approach to social distancing measures on trains between Scotland and England is under review.
A spokesman for the operator said: “We are reviewing our approach to social distancing onboard our Anglo-Scot services.
“The safety of our customers and colleagues remains our top priority and we will provide an update in due course.
“We are continuing to provide an enhanced cleaning programme onboard our trains and at our stations as well as reminding customers to wear a face mask, unless exempt.
“We are also using our reservation system to prevent overcrowding and our website to continue to inform customers which are our least busy and busier services, to enable people to plan ahead and travel in confidence.”