Nicola Sturgeon has urged cross-border train services “operating in Scotland to follow the law in Scotland” after LNER said it would “operate under English guidance” earlier this week.
As of July 19, social distancing is no longer mandatory on public transport in England following a change in Covid restrictions south of the border.
However in Scotland, one metre distancing measures are still required by law “so far as reasonably practicable” for anyone “carrying on a business or providing a service” on their premises.
Transport Scotland yesterday argued that “the law is clear that social distancing is required on public transport, including on cross-border services”, and dubbed LNER’s approach of following England’s virus guidance while in Scotland “not acceptable”.
But at a briefing today, the first minister said some “clarification” might be needed to determine whether or not trains definitely fall under Scotland’s legal requirements for staying a metre apart from others.
‘The intention is clear’
She said: “I’ve seen some commentary to the effect that the use of the word ‘premises’ might not include a train, for example, and I’ve just asked our lawyers to look at that to see whether there is any clarification or tightening of that that is required.“But the intention is clear, and I would expect companies operating in Scotland to follow the law in Scotland, and indeed to follow the guidance that is in place in Scotland even if it is not contained in statute.
“Because that is, in my view, what the public would expect.
“After a bit of prevarication, or controversy yesterday, I’m pleased and would thank LNER for making clear that they intend to do that.”
LNER said yesterday it is currently “reviewing” its approach to social distancing “on board our Anglo-Scot services”, and insisted that the “safety of our customers and colleagues remains our top priority”.
LNER has been approached for further comment today.
What about Covid measures on the other cross-border rail services?
Aside from LNER, five other operators run trains that travel between Scotland and England.
They are Cross Country, Scot Rail, Avanti West Coast, TransPennine Express and Caledonian Sleeper.
Although all have insisted they are working to limit the spread of the virus on their services, and enforce the legal facial covering requirement while their trains are in Scotland, some have been more clear with their guidance on social distancing than others.
Scot Rail runs services which travel as far south as Carlisle and Newcastle in England.
A spokesman for the operator said: ”We base our policy on advice and guidance from the Scottish Government and we will continue to do so.”
He explained Scot Rail is assessing what the next major change of Covid restrictions in Scotland, which are due to come into force on August 9, will mean for its services.
The spokesman continued: “Changes on August 9 would include the removal of physical distancing requirements, including on public transport.
“However, some measures, such as the use of face coverings in schools and public transport, would be required for a period.
“Scot Rail is currently considering what the removal of these restrictions will mean for our operations and communications.
“However, currently customers must wear face coverings on our trains unless medically exempt.”
Avanti West Coast
Avanti West Coast runs services all along the west of the UK, all the way from London Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland’s central belt.
A spokesman said: “Onboard announcements will be made on our services to Scotland upon departure from Carlisle to advise customers of guidelines for Scotland, and give them the option to move seats to comply with social distancing guidelines if appropriate.
“Most of our services to and from Scotland are well below full capacity and we continue to encourage customers to travel at the quieter times.”
On the operator’s website under the section for cross-border travel advice between Scotland and England, it says that “the guidance on social distancing has changed, which may mean that during busy times you may be seated next to another passenger”.
Caledonian Sleeper services operate overnight services between London and a number of destinations in Scotland.
Like the other operators, it requires passengers to wear face coverings while on board at all times, except when inside private rooms.
But masking up is still required on the service’s seated coach, which has reduced capacity to ensure passengers can “travel appropriately in line with Government guidelines, reducing your worry of potentially sitting beside someone”.
Groups of passengers, including families or support bubbles, are forbidden by Caledonian Sleeper from sitting together currently, but said “you are still allowed to give a cheeky wave to one another from your seats”.
Cross Country operates services which travel from Aberdeen all the way south to Penzance in south-west England.
The company said it makes “regular announcements on board to remind passengers of the legal requirements” depending on the country its services are currently in.
A spokeswoman said: “In England, social distancing restrictions are no longer in place on board our services, which is in line with government guidelines. Scotland still has a social distancing rule of one metre in place.
“However, there is an acknowledgement that on some crowded services one-metre physical distancing may prove difficult.
“We continue to have a range of measures in place including information about quieter services and enhanced cleaning regimes to ensure our customers have a comfortable travel experience.”
TransPennine Express operates services which travel to the central belt of Scotland including Edinburgh and Glasgow, and as far south as York, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.
A spokeswoman for the company said: “We will be following Scottish restrictions on all journeys within Scotland, and reminding customers of this when on board.”
She continued: “In line with national Rail Delivery Group guidance, we are asking customers to wear a mask in crowded spaces on trains and on stations out of respect to others.
“We have specific advice for those travelling to, from and within Scotland.”