Union Wades into Row Over Overcrowding on Tube

Aslef wants non-essential workplaces shut to reduce passenger numbers

The train drivers union Aslef has waded into the row between the Government and Sadiq Khan over whether more Tube services should be put on to prevent overcrowding.

Every rush hour since Monday (March 23) has brought complaints from worried commuters about tightly-packed rush-hour trains, which risks increasing the spread of coronavirus.

Despite the lockdown on all but “essential” activities and non-key workers, the London Underground is still in high demand from builders and other workers commuting across the capital.

Ministers have criticised London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who runs TfL – for reducing Tube services last week. But Mr Khan has said too many train drivers are off sick or self-isolating.

Today, Aslef rejected the Government’s calls for more trains to be put on at rush hour, saying more should be done to limit the number of people still using the Tube network.

Finn Brennan, Aslef’s London Underground organiser, said: “We don’t need more trains on London Underground, we need fewer passengers.

“As MPs vote to leave their own place of work today, it is disgraceful that the government puts key workers’ lives at risk by refusing to close other non-essential workplaces.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday claimed there was “no good reason” why timetables have been cut.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also insisted more trains should be running to prevent NHS workers travelling “cheek by jowl” with others during the COVID-19 outbreak.

This morning on BBC Breakfast he said: “We think that can be resolved by laying on more trains and we are urging the mayor of London to do so.”

Mr Khan today said demand for trains is falling and that services could be reduced even further if more staff call in sick.

He said: “I’d like to thank all Londoners who have followed the rules today and stayed at home.

“TfL’s early-morning data [for March 25] suggests Tube travel is down by an additional third compared to yesterday. Tube ridership was already 88 per cent down yesterday.

“However, we still need more Londoners to do the right thing and stay at home.

“Nearly a third of TfL’s staff are now off sick or self-isolating – including train drivers and crucial control centre staff. Many of them have years of safety-critical training in order to run specific lines – so it is simply not possible to replace them with others.”

The Mayor added that TfL will do “everything possible to continue safely running a basic service for key workers including our amazing NHS staff”, but warned that staff numbers could continue to fall due to sickness or self-isolating.

He said if that happens “we will have no choice but to reduce services further”.

The Government has now (March 23) ordered everyone to stay at home unless absolutely necessary to fight the spread of coronavirus. You can find the latest guidance here.

Advice on the virus from Public Health England is available here.

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

March 25, 2020