SCOTLAND’S national transport agency is speaking with LNER about its “unacceptable” social distancing advice “as a matter of urgency” after the railway firm sparked a row last night.

Transport Scotland said it had “received assurances” ahead of the English Covid rule changes today that it would “respect Scottish Government law and guidance”.

But the publicly-owned rail operator, which runs the east-coast line between London King’s Cross and Inverness, announced on Twitter that it would be following “English guidance” on distancing on its cross-Border services.

LNER told passengers this would lead to “consistency” for customers as England has scrapped its coronavirus restrictions, including social distancing and mask-wearing, from today. Passengers are still being encouraged to wear a mask in England, while those on trains in Scotland are being reminded that wearing a face-covering is a legal requirement.

Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said that axing social distancing on trains in Scotland as well as England was “unacceptable” and told the company that they should comply with Holyrood’s public health advice.

The National:

Fellow Scottish Government minister Angus Robertson also hit out at the rail operator’s statement, asking: “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.”

A newsletter sent by LNER to customers last week claimed that the company had agreed with Transport Scotland that it would "operate under English guidance".

Now Transport Scotland has spoken out, criticising LNER’s “inaccurate advice” to passengers.

A spokesperson 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.

READ MORE: LNER ends social distancing on trains in Scotland due to 'English guidance' on Covid

“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.”

A spokesperson for LNER said: “Whilst social distancing guidance remains in place in Scotland, we have taken the decision to operate the same seating/reservation approach on all our services, including our cross-border services, to ensure a consistent experience for customers.

"To provide customers with comfortable journeys on LNER services and give confidence that trains will not be overcrowded, Seat Sure means that most seats will 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.

"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.”

In a statement issued last night a spokesperson said: “We are reviewing our approach to social distancing onboard our Anglo-Scot services.

“The safety of our customers and colleagues remains our top priority and we will provide an update in due course.

“We are continuing to provide an enhanced cleaning programme onboard our trains and at our stations as well as reminding customers to wear a face mask, unless exempt.

“We are also using our reservation system to prevent overcrowding and our website to continue to inform customers which are our least busy and busier services, to enable people to plan ahead and travel in confidence.”