COVID-safe travel: Tips on rail and public transportation during the pandemic

Whether its long-distance rail or intercity public transport, travelling this holiday season can be a daunting task amid the ongoing pandemic. However, operators and passengers can take a few simple steps to make the journey safely despite these health concerns. Here are some tips that will help mitigate the risks of contracting COVID-19 for those travelling this month.

Travelling to a winter getaway or to visit friends and family is now on the mind of millions and many of them are expected to arrive by train this holiday season. Despite historic lows in rail transport due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, rail traffic is slowly increasing ahead of a projected busy period of travel. In Europe, cross-border rail travel is severely limited with services between Italy and Switzerland the most recent casualty, however domestic services worldwide are expected to handle a large influx of passengers. As the holiday period approaches and we see an increased usage of rail services, passengers should stay up-to-date on restrictions in destinations and practice appropriate safety measures to ensure a smooth journey.

For train travel, lockdowns, curfew and entry bans have caused rail service disruptions around the globe. These disruptions have been further exacerbated by deep cleaning of train cars and stations as this presents the safest way for these services to continue to operate until a vaccine is found. Further still, new rules regarding pre-boarding health screenings, including thermal testing, have often resulted in long queues for several operators. Despite these challenges, more rail traffic is expected in the coming month compared to all of 2020. As such, allow for additional travel time to allow for pre-temperature screening and other sanitary measures. 

For travellers wanting peace of mind while travelling, there are a number of things you can do to maximize comfort and minimize stress. Checking-in online or using an electronic ticket or self-service kiosk in stations will protect you from unnecessary contact with staff. Wearing a face mask is not only a requirement for most train operators, but is also a proven way to reduce airborne transmission. Bring plenty of masks as, depending on the length of your journey, it may be recommended that you change out your mask en-route. Make sure masks, along with hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes, are easily accessible in your luggage. This can also apply to food and beverage items as operators are likely to have discontinued this service.

The issues that have plagued long-distance train travel are causing similar issues for commuters in cities as public transport services have seen a dramatic drop in schedules and routes available and number of passengers as they are unable to cope with the difficulties of COVID-19. Reduced demand amidst lockdowns made social distancing relatively easy but it is becoming increasingly difficult as commuters return to work, especially during peak hours. Passengers should expect to see mandatory mask requirements, reduced seat availability and daily sanitisation among other health measures. Travelling during off-peak hours will help reduce the risk of transmission while other forms of private transport such as taxis or micromobility options (i.e. bikes and scooters) serve as viable alternatives.

With all the stresses that life brings in the midst of the pandemic, it can be a relief to know about the challenges that lay ahead and how to prepare for them as COVID-19 has made unpleasant surprises during travel more common than ever.

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