Train operator LNER is facing criticism over its “unacceptable” policy of not enforcing social distancing on board trains travelling through Scotland.
The company said it had decided to operate “under English guidance” from Monday in order to “provide consistency to customers”.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “This is unacceptable. @LNER services operatingin Scotland should comply with the @scotgov public health guidance.
“I’ve asked Transport Scotland officials to address this point with LNER.”
The row comes as the majority of remaining legal coronavirus restrictions are lifted in England, but Scotland is keeping some coronavirus measures in place, such as one metre social distancing on public transport.
Face masks are no longer required by law on public transport in England and the one-metre-plus rule on social distancing has ended there.
Transport Scotland said discussions are under way with LNER “as a matter of urgency to ensure an approach consistent with Scottish restrictions”.
A spokesman said: “The law is clear that social distancing is required on public transport, including on cross border services. Under Paragraph 3(1)(a) of schedule one of the local levels regulations anyone operating a business or providing a service in a level zero area is required to take measures, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure one metre 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 19. 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.
August 9 has been set as an indicative date for when all main coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in Scotland, but ministers have set out an ongoing need for face masks and other basic measures to continue.
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.”
Angus Robertson, the Scottish Government’s culture secretary, compared LNER’s decision to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s short-lived move to avoid quarantine after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
He tweeted: “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.”
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, 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.”
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