A PUBLICLY owned rail firm has warned customers it is ending social distancing on trains from Scotland to England from today as Covid-19 restrictions are scrapped south of the Border.

LNER, which is owned by the Department for Transport, caused upset last night as it informed passengers that trains will operate “under English guidance” for "consistency" following the rule changes in England.

LNER trains connect Scotland and England along the east-coast railway line, going from as far north as Inverness all the way down to London King’s Cross.

The National:

While the company is asking passengers in England to continue wearing face coverings, as the legal imperative to do ending today, and asking Scots passengers to follow the legal requirements on mask wearing, distancing will no longer be enforced in carriages.

On its website, updated today, LNER advised passengers on both sides of the Border: “The Government's guidance on social distancing will change and you may be seated next to another passenger.”

Online, one passenger was concerned by an email they’d received from LNER informing them there would be no distancing on trains from Edinburgh to England.

Asked why such a decision had been made, LNER responded: “Hi, we have made the decision to operate under English guidance, with regards to social distancing on cross border services, to provide consistency to customers. Therefore, customers may be seated next to each other when travelling from 19 July onwards.”

Pressed on who this would provide “consistency” for, LNER replied: “Consistency to customers travelling across our full route, regardless of the length of journey.”

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Transport Secretary Michael Matheson described the decision as “unacceptable”.

“LNER services operating in Scotland should comply with the [Scottish Government] public health guidance. I’ve asked Transport Scotland officials to address this point with LNER,” he announced this afternoon.

Meanwhile Angus Robertson (below), the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, hit out at the company’s decision online.

“LNER is a train company owned by the UK Government. Is it still maintaining that when it operates in Scotland it is going to disregard Scottish public health and safety coronavirus rules?

“This is as tenable as Boris Johnson’s exemption from social distancing regulations.”

The National:

LNER's guidance also sparked an angry reaction among Scots passengers who called the move “absurd”.

“You mean you're putting profit before the health of your passengers and who cares about Scotland?” asked Mark Whiley.

“What about safety?” asked Trev Ellis. “You're not just putting passengers welfare at risk, you're putting your train staff at risk as well.”

“Please explain to me how you think it is legal to cram people onto your trains like sardines in Scotland whilst adhering to ENGLISH LAW,” demanded another Twitter user.

According to the UK Government’s guidance for transport operator, it is up to individual firms what restrictions they implement on board.

On travel between England, Scotland and Wales it states: “Passengers should plan ahead and ensure they understand and comply with the rules for the whole of their journey if they are crossing from England into one of the other UK nations. Operators should make themselves aware of the rules that could impact cross-Border services and where possible inform passengers.”

A spokesperson for LNER said that trains would not be overcrowded as most seats will still require a reservation.

"To protect the flexibility of the walk-up railway, there will be a number of unreserved seats in Coach C for Standard and a number of seats in Coach M in First Class, or Coach E in First Class in a five-coach train," they said. "Customers without a reservation will be able to travel in these unreserved areas of the train. To ensure customers can travel with confidence, LNER is continuing to deliver record levels of enhanced cleaning onboard its trains and in stations.”

According to a newsletter sent out by LNER last week, the decision to "operate under English guidance" was agreed between the firm and Transport Scotland.

In response Transport Scotland said it would discuss the matter with LNER urgently, adding that the body was assured last week that it would "reflect and respect Scottish Government law and guidance".

A spokesman told The National: “The law is clear that social distancing is required on public transport, including on cross border services. Under Paragraph 3(1)(a) of schedule 1 of the local levels regulations anyone operating a business or providing a service in a level 0 area is required to take measures, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure 1m physical distance is maintained.

“It is our expectation that operators providing a public transport service in Scotland to comply with the law as far as is reasonably practical and inform passengers using their services.

“This issue was flagged with LNER in advance of changes to restrictions in England and Scotland coming into force on July 19th. Transport Scotland officials received assurance from LNER on Friday that their messages to customers would be changed to reflect and respect Scottish Government law and guidance. It is not acceptable that LNER has continued to issue inaccurate advice.

“We are now discussing this issue again with LNER as a matter of urgency to ensure an approach consistent with Scottish restrictions.”

READ MORE: Transport Secretary furious as LNER ditches distancing on trains in Scotland

A number of other rail firms also provide cross-Border services, including CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express. 

Avanti West Coast is set to make onboard announcements upon departure from Carlisle to advise customers of guidelines over the Border and give them the option to move seats in order to comply with social distancing measures where possible.

The National:

A spokesperson for CrossCountry said it would continue to encourage mask wearing south of the Border, adding: “In England, social distancing restrictions are no longer in place on board our services, which is in line with government guidelines.

"Scotland still has a social distancing rule of 1m in place. However, there is acknowledgement that on some crowded services 1m physical distancing may prove difficult. We continue to have a range of measures in place including information about quieter services and enhanced cleaning regimes to ensure our customers have a comfortable travel experience. Face coverings also remain mandatory in Scotland for the time being and we make frequent announcements to inform our customers.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents a number of train operators running over the Border, said: “Train companies have improved information about busier and quieter times so that people can plan their journeys and continue to travel with confidence.

"Train travel is low risk as carriages are well ventilated with air regularly refreshed and we will be continuing with extra cleaning. We still expect people to wear face coverings in crowded spaces, out of respect for others, when travelling in England and we have also worked closely with devolved transport authorities to ensure that when passengers cross borders they have clear information about what is expected.”