Train bosses at LNER have been accused of disregarding the Scottish Government’s coronavirus regulations, by operating under English guidance on cross-border services.
Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson hit out at the rail firm, which is owned by the UK Department for Transport and which took over the franchise for the East Coast Main Line service between London and Scotland from Virgin Trains.
Mr Robertson questioned if the train firm was going to “disregard Scottish public health and safety coronavirus rules” on its services north of the border.
It comes as “freedom day” south of the border brings more differences between coronavirus regulations in Scotland and England, with an end to social distancing requirements south of the border.
With all legal restrictions now removed in England, LNER said it had “made the decision to operate under English guidance, with regards to social distancing on cross-border services, to provide consistency to customers”.
The rail operator tweeted: “Therefore, customers may be seated next to each other when travelling from July 19 onwards.”
But Mr Robertson, also the MSP for Edinburgh Central, said this was as “tenable as Boris Johnson’s exemption from social distancing regulations”.
The Prime Minister is currently self-isolating after coming into contact with UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for coronavirus
Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who is also isolating – had both initially tried to get round the requirement to quarantine by saying they would join a daily workplace testing programme being trialled by the Cabinet Office and No 10.
However, they were forced into a hasty reversal on Sunday amid widespread anger from the public, as tens of thousands of people across the UK are being forced to miss work or school and stay home.
In a statement on Monday evening, an LNER spokesman 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.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The law is clear that social distancing is required on public transport, including on cross border services. Under Paragraph 3(1)(a) of schedule 1 of the local levels regulations anyone operating a business or providing a service in a level 0 area is required to take measures, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure 1m 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.
“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.
“We are now discussing this issue again with LNER as a matter of urgency to ensure an approach consistent with Scottish restrictions.”