New rail pass for UK staycationers; circuit failures clobber busy rail routes
Image credit: Mike Austin | Unsplash
A new rail pass for domestic holidaymakers will be launched later this year to boost the recovery of tourism, the UK government has announced. The news came on the same day that multiple track circuit failures wiped out services on two of the country's busiest routes.
The new railway pass will be similar to the existing BritRail pass which entitles international visitors to unlimited train travel in Britain within their chosen zones and duration.
Those passes, which also provide discounted entry to tourism attractions, range in cost from £96 for two consecutive days to £568 for a whole month, according to retailer Trainline.
The 'Tourism Recovery Plan' also includes a £10m 'Days Out' scheme wherein National Lottery players will be able to claim vouchers for redemption at tourist sites across the UK between September 2021 and March 2022. This is intended to encourage trips beyond the peak summer season, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Further details of the rail pass and lottery vouchers will be announced at a later date.
The measures aim to bring domestic and inbound tourism back to pre-pandemic levels by 2022 and 2023 respectively, which is at least one year earlier than some estimates.
Tourism minister Nigel Huddleston said: “Our brilliant tourism sector is one of our country’s greatest assets, making a huge contribution to our economy and delivering jobs across all communities. This is why we’ve provided it with £25bn in support so far during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Tourism Recovery Plan is our blueprint for how the sector can build back better from the pandemic, even faster than forecasts predict. It’s been a challenging year for the tourism sector, especially for our cities, but I know they stand ready to welcome visitors back and I encourage everyone to rediscover the UK’s fantastic tourism on offer.”
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, chairman of tourism authority VisitBritain, commented: “The UK government’s Tourism Recovery Plan is a welcome and important step on the industry’s road to recovery, recognising the economic potential of the sector, setting out a clear policy direction for the future and outlining the ambitions for domestic and international tourism.”
A sustainable tourism plan will also be developed to consider measures to reduce the environmental impact of tourism whilst balancing the needs of local communities with economic benefits. The government will also consult on introducing a registration scheme for tourist accommodation in England, which would include hotels, B&Bs and short-term rentals, such as those booked through Airbnb. This is to give a better understanding of what accommodation is available across the country.
The DCMS added that there will be a “new focus on technology and data”, using information obtained from inbound tourists at the border to track trends.
Iain Stewart, the Scotland Office minister, said: “Tourism is a cornerstone of Scotland’s economy so it’s fantastic that this ambitious UK government plan is helping the sector recover. Scotland has a huge amount to offer tourists, from our vibrant cities to our spectacular scenery.
“The launch of a new rail pass will encourage people from across the UK to come and explore our beautiful country while giving the tourism and hospitality sectors a much-needed boost.”
In 2019, Scotland welcomed almost 3.5 million inbound visitors who spent £2.5 billion in the country.
Somewhat ironically, the new rail pass was announced on the same day that multiple track circuit failures caused major disruption on two of England's busiest rail routes.
South Western Railway (SWR) issued a message to customers at lunchtime advising them not to travel on its services at present, saying tickets would be valid on Saturday instead.
In a statement, the company said: “We have been informed that there are multiple track circuit failures in the Surbiton area, affecting all trains heading away from London Waterloo. Trains are having to be talked past signals and run under caution. Trains may be subject to short notice changes. Passengers are requested to please use other London terminals.”
Changes were made on many lines and London Waterloo to Hampton Court services were suspended in both directions. Replacement road transport was requested to run between Hampton Court and Wimbledon, but was not running to a fixed timetable.
John Halsall, managing director, Network Rail Southern region, said: “I’m so sorry for the major problems passengers are facing today and both Network Rail and South Western Railway are asking people not to travel on trains from Waterloo.
“This is an unusually complex problem and we’re working as hard as we can to resolve it, but even if we can fix it soon, the disruption is likely to continue for the rest of the day.
“We can only run a very limited service from London Waterloo and as a result we are having to limit the number of trains we’re running the other way, otherwise we will soon run out of trains at one end and space to put them at the other. As soon as we can get things moving normally again we will, but until then please don’t travel.”
Claire Mann, managing director, SWR, said: “We are so sorry that, due to track circuit failures at Surbiton, our customers are having to deal with disrupted journeys today. Unfortunately, this disruption is so severe that we are urging our customers not to travel on our network until further notice.
“Whilst we work with Network Rail to fix this problem, a rail replacement bus service is currently in operation on affected routes and SWR tickets are being accepted on certain TfL, Southern Railway, GWR and Cross Country services, along with some local bus routes.”
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