Metrolink and Merseyrail facing challenges from coronavirus pandemic

Merseyrail passenger numbers are down by 83%

Two ‘metro mayors’ in the north west of England have reiterated their fears for the future of rail networks within their respective areas as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint online press conference, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, warned that the Metrolink and Merseyrail networks could be mothballed unless additional funding was forthcoming from the government.

Burnham claimed that Metrolink is losing “millions of pounds every month trying to run a public transport service” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If there is no deal from the government in the way they have bailed out bus and the rail sectors, we are going to face the very difficult decision soon,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Rotheram revealed Merseyrail passenger numbers are down by 83% and the system was losing £1.2m each week.

“The fare box has literally fallen through the floor,” he said. “We are still running services that need staffing, but we aren’t getting the returns through the revenue stream, so something will need to happen.

“Although the government has helped nationally with rail, we need a local settlement. The government has been slow and it needs to help us now and step up the pace.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We are aware of the challenges faced by light rail operators, and continue to work closely with the sector and local authorities on the best solution for passengers.”

Meanwhile, both mayors also called for any plans to emerge from the UK’s lockdown to incorporate some of the positive aspects that have emerged in recent weeks.

“We should capture the benefits of the time we have been living through,” said Burnham. “Let’s keep the clean air. Help businesses change their vans to electric vehicles. Keep people exercising, prioritise cyclists and pedestrians over the car and keep the benefits of home working.

“These are things the country should do anyway. Let’s get on with them now.”