Metro trains pulled from duty due to number of drivers asked to self-isolate
Metro trains are being pulled from duty due to the number of drivers ordered to self-isolate.
Transport bosses have warned that the number of Tyne and Wear Metro staff who have either tested positive for Covid-19 or have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace is having a “detrimental impact on services”.
Staff shortages meant that 14 trains had to be taken out of action on Thursday, meaning that dozens of timetabled services did not run.
Metro operator Nexus confirmed that, as of July 8, there were 15 drivers off work due to Covid, some of which had contracted the virus and some due to alerts from the Test and Trace app, in addition to a further 14 absent with either short or long-term sickness.
In total, Nexus employs 174 drivers – though not all of those not off sick would be available to work on any given day due to rota patterns and holidays.
John Fenwick, Metro’s finance and resources director, told councillors on Thursday afternoon: “We are struggling right now with the increase in reported cases of Covid and the number of people self-isolating.
“That is having a detrimental impact on the amount of drivers we have for the Metro and it is also impacting elsewhere in terms of maintenance and office-based activities.”
At the meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Tyne and Wear sub-committee, Gateshead councillor John McElroy added that the issue caused “concern for the operation of public transport generally”.
The North East currently has some of the highest Covid infection rates in the country, with South Tyneside having now overtaken Newcastle as England’s virus hotspot.
Many businesses have been left short-staffed or forced to close as a result of employees being told to self-isolate, with the number of people being pinged by the NHS app shooting up as lockdown measures ease and Covid infection rates rise.
The head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that work was being done to “tune” the app to work within an increasingly vaccinated population to ensure it was there “for a purpose, not for annoyance”.
While remaining lockdown rules are due to be eased on July 19, self-isolation requirements are currently set to stay in place until mid-August.
Fully vaccinated people and under-18s will no longer be told to stay at home if they have come into contact with a coronavirus case from August 16, but will instead be advised to take a test.
A Nexus spokesperson said: “Like all operators in the North East we have been affected by staff needing to self-isolate. Infection rates are high in our region at the moment.
“This is having an impact on train crew resources but we are coping and are keeping the number of train cancellations as low as we possibly can. We apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused.”
Since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020 Nexus will have received nearly £40million of Government support for Metro.