Network Rail finds no trace of Covid-19 at four major stations

Network Rail has said no traces of Covid-19 virus were detected during two rounds of testing at four of the country’s largest railway stations.

Places which passengers touch regularly, such as escalator handrails, ticket machines and benches were swabbed, and hour-long air samples taken on station concourses at London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly stations in January and June of this year.

Between the testing dates, passenger numbers across all four stations rose by 287 per cent, but all lab tests by Imperial College London (ICL) showed no Covid-19 contamination of any surface tested or any airborne particles of the virus in station or on trains.

The conclusions from the independent report, which was commissioned by Network Rail, suggests that the enhanced cleaning methods across the rail industry and widespread wearing of face coverings by passengers are key reasons for the negative results.

Rob Mole, senior programme manager for Network Rail’s Covid response, said: “Station cleaning teams and train staff have made it their mission to keep passengers safe during the pandemic and this is proof their dedicated approach works.

“We want all passengers to travel in confidence on the railway network and we will keep doing our part by rigorously cleaning trains and stations. We ask passengers to do their bit, too, by wearing face coverings while travelling out of respect for others, so we can all stop the spread of Covid-19.”

David Green, ICL senior research fellow, said: “In the same way that a swab is used to take a Covid-19 test in the nose and throat and sent to the lab, we use a filter to collect any virus particles in the air and swabs to collect viruses on surfaces.

“This approach provides a way of quantifying the amount of virus circulating in these public environments and the effect of mitigation strategies like cleaning and wearing face coverings. This is part of a wider programme of work with the public transport sector to understand where this virus is most prevalent so that we can return to pre-pandemic activities as safely as possible.”

Network Rail plans to maintain its enhanced cleaning procedures for the time being with hand sanitiser and face masks continuing to be made available at stations to stop the spread of the virus. Passengers who can wear a face covering are expected to do so whilst in stations, although the UK government made the mask-wearing advice non-mandatory last month.

The exception to this is in London, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has told TfL to retain the mandate due to the continuing rise in Covid-19 cases in the capital. When this was announced, a rail union warned it could trigger threats of violence against its members.

While stations have been manually wiping down surfaces to contain the spread of the virus, Heathrow airport has gone one step further, introducing a cleaning robot which uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill bacteria and viruses.

This technology was later adopted by St Pancras International, one of London’s biggest train stations, in a bid to minimise the risk to travellers.

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