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Covid-19: International Rail Response

Rail organisations around the world have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic in a variety of ways. This article aims to share knowledge and provide an overview of the various control measures that have been implemented. The international control measures were identified by the International Union of Railways (UIC) Covid-19 task force and have been summarised here with their permission. The UIC is an international rail transport membership body.

As the government begins to relax guidelines, the GB rail industry will be expected to return to normal operations in due course. Rail organisations are beginning to put in place measures to help control any further spread of Covid-19. This article aims to inform existing control measures by considering international good practice. RSSB can provide further support and advice   on implementing control measures, recently a new service has been set up for members to support risks assessments. RSSB is also helping industry through a range of groups, including: the Covid-19 Joint Executive Oversight Team (JEOT), the Rail Delivery Group Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum (RDG RICF) and various risk groups. 

The information in this article is provided in a framework that follows a passenger journey, outlining the key tasks, risks and international control measures. 

 
  • Preparing for travel

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    Booking and reserving tickets

    • Increased passenger numbers may make socials distancing difficult.
    • Reducing passenger numbers by limiting online bookings may lead to more people attempting to buy tickets at stations, creating crowding outside and inside the station.

    There have been several approaches taken around the world to influence passenger behaviours and mitigate risks at this early stage, these are: 

    • Reduced capacities: to help passengers maintain social distancing. There is a common trend for train operating companies to sell 50% of their reservable tickets (usually on longer distance services), this is taking place in countries such as Denmark, Greece and Australia. 
    • Early communication: there are ongoing communication campaigns in most countries that aim to target passengers before they begin travelling. These campaigns are provided via television, social media and applications. Greece for example, aim to ensure they communicate the control measures that they have implemented on their network through a ‘travel continues’ television and social media campaign.  
    • Masks: there are mixed reactions to use of masks, for some countries wearing a mask is mandatory, but for the majority of countries it is encouraged. It is accepted that social distancing is likely to be very difficult on busy commuter services, and in this case, masks are usually encouraged. In most countries, passengers are required to bring their own masks (e.g. Austria, Hungary, Japan) but in some countries train operators provide masks to passengers. In Turkey, passengers without a mask are given them at checkpoints in stations. Before passengers begin to travel, it is important that they know whether to bring masks if they are not provided at the station.  

    Case study  : Eurostar have recently modified the reservation seat map used by customers in the booking process to ensure that every other seat remains free.

    Case study: In Austria, train companies encourage passengers to wear masks using various communication techniques such as stickers on trains. 

     

    Austria passengers masks

    Photo of a sticker used on trains to encourage passengers to wear masks in Austria.

     
  • Arriving and navigating through the station

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    Arriving at the station 

    • Upon arrival to the station, passengers may cluster around the entrances into the station. 
    • Infected people may introduce the virus into the station environment.

    Buying ticket

    • Passengers may interact with staff, within the two-metre social distance when buying tickets.
    • Buttons on the ticket machines are high risk of contamination.

    Waiting on concourse and platforms

    • Breaching of the two-metre social distancing rule with passengers waiting close together.

    Using station facilities (lifts, escalators, gatelines, toilets)

    • Breaching of the two-metre social distancing rule with passengers waiting close together.
    • Passengers frequently interacting with facilities increasing the risk of contamination.

    There have been several approaches taken worldwide to influence passenger behaviours and mitigate risks at this stage of the passenger journey, these are: 

    • Thermal cameras: most countries have not implemented the use of thermal cameras as a way of identifying infected passengers. However, Korea do use thermal cameras at main station entrances. Thermal cameras can be intrusive and may create unintended problems such as crowds building up before the check points. 
    • Station queuing systems: to avoid crowded stations, China have implemented queuing systems at station entrances, reducing the speed of station entry. 
    • Buying tickets: most countries still sell tickets at stations. The use of ticket machines is encouraged to prevent interaction with staff. Many countries have increased the levels of cleaning and sanitation for ticket machines. To protect their staff Denmark have installed protective screens at the counters in ticket offices. 
    • Social distancing around the station or platforms: information on social distancing is provided to passengers via information displays, voice announcements, posters and stickers on the floor. Social distancing is encouraged using lane markings for passenger flows and stickers for individuals to stand on. On platforms, a number of countries have installed markings to encourage social distancing. 

    Case study  : Poland have installed dispensers with disinfectant next to the ticket counters, as well as stickers on the floor to encourage social distancing. 

    Poland disinfectant dispensers

    Photo of hand sanitisers next to ticket counters in Poland.

    Poland social distance markings

    Photo of stickers on the floor to encourage social distancing in Poland.

    Case study: several countries have equipped their platforms with special high-visibility graphic signs placed on the ground to enable customers to self-regulate social distance while waiting for trains. China’s approach can be seen below:

    social distancing markings

    Photo of platform markings to encourage social distancing when boarding trains in China.

    Case study: to help avoid crowded station during peak hours, China have implemented queuing arrangements at station entrances.

    China queuing at stations

    Photo of queuing systems outside stations to regulate flow of passengers in China.

    Case study: in Switzerland, ticket offices have been installed with protective screens to prevent the spread of the virus to their ticket staff.

     

    Switzerland ticket office protection

    Photo of protective screens used at ticket offices in Switzerland courtesy of SBB Swiss Federal Railways.

     

  • Boarding the train

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    Boarding the train from the platform

    • Bottlenecks as passengers cluster around the train doors.
    • Short dwell times mean passengers rush to board the trains.  

    The international approaches taken at this stage of the passenger journey are: 

    • Early boarding: Eurostar have recently introduced earlier boarding times to avoid congestion and to encourage passengers to maintain social distancing. 

    Note: control measures in other stages of the passenger journey are also relevant here, including platform markings, queuing systems and platform announcements. 

     
  • Travelling on the train

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    Finding a seat

    • Breaching the two-metre social distancing rule as people sit close together.

    Buying a ticket on the train

    • Interactions with staff putting them at risk of infection.

    Using train facilities (toilet, catering)

    • Passengers frequently interact with facilities increasing the risk of contamination.

    Once passengers have boarded the train, certain challenges arise such as maintaining social distancing and the spread of infection from contaminated surfaces. The international approaches taken at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    • Social distancing on trains: maintain social distancing on is seen as a challenge. However, some countries aim to tackle these issues by encouraging passengers to distribute as loosely as possible. For example, operators in the Netherlands are piloting putting ‘do not sit here’ stickers on seats, distance markings on the floors and transparent screens in trains. They are also exploring the possibility of one-way traffic in trains for passengers and the use of entry and exit doors.
    • Sanitation and cleaning: most operators have increased their cleaning and sanitation regimes, especially for the high frequency touch areas. Several countries have also deployed a dedicated ‘cleaning crew’ on services to ensure sanitation. In Italy, hand sanitising gels have been installed on board trains.

    Note: control measures in other stages of the passenger journey are also relevant here, including reduced passenger numbers (e.g. Eurostar seating plan). 

    Case study: Korea have increased their sanitation regimes to ensure that trains are sanitised twice a day. They have also installed hand sanitisers near every passenger train door. 

    Case study: Denmark have recently implemented improvements to their seat reservation system so that it automatically spreads customers onboard trains. They have also introduced pictograms on trains to encourage passengers not to press buttons onboard trains.

     

    Denmark passenger sign

    Photo of a pictogram used on trains to encourage passengers not to press onboard buttons in Denmark.

     
  • Alighting the train

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:
    Alighting the train onto the platform

    • Breaching the two-metre rule as passengers cluster at train doors when alighting. 
    • Risk of contamination from buttons on train doors.

    The international approaches taken at this stage of the passenger journey are: 

    • Remaining seated for longer: in Switzerland loudspeaker announcements are provided to passengers advising them to ‘remain seated until the doors are open to disembark’. Other operating companies advise passengers to leave their seat as late as possible before leaving the train. 

    Note: control measures in other stages of the passenger journey are also relevant here, including floor markings and increased sanitation and cleaning regimes.

     
  • Exiting the station

    The relevant tasks and consequent risks at this stage of the passenger journey are:

    Navigating through the station to exit

    • Crowds and bottlenecks form as large numbers of passengers attempt to exit the station at once. 
    • Exiting and entering passengers encroaching the two-metre rule.

    The international approaches taken at this stage of the passenger journey are: 

    • Entry and exits flows: in Spain, entry and exit passenger flows are separated through tape markings on the ground. This encourages passengers to follow specific routes along the platform and in the station. 

    Note: control measures in other stages of the passenger journey are also relevant here, including station announcements, floor markings and signage.

     
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