Covid Christmas Travel: Safety Tips for Disabled Passengers

With Christmas just around the corner, we know that many people are contemplating rail journeys across the UK to visit family and friends in other parts of the country. But with the pandemic still playing on everyone’s minds, we also know that many of Passenger Assistance’s users will be nervous about the idea of train travel in crowded carriages, and may be wondering how to ensure their train journeys are as safe as they can be over Christmas 2021.

A train platform at Kings Cross station showing two stationary trains on either side of it

With that in mind, we’ve researched the typical ‘quiet times’ cited by popular train operators throughout the UK, to give you a feel for the best days and times to travel by train if you want to avoid the crowds while Covid is still present. We’ve also looked into which train operators are the most enthusiastic about encouraging their passengers to continue wearing masks on board.

Best travel times for a quieter trip

Generally speaking, the times of day that you’ll want to avoid travelling by train in order to have a quieter trip by rail are the morning peak time (7am-9am) and evening peak time (4.30pm-7pm) on weekdays, along with weekend lunchtimes. 

Some train operating companies now provide more specific information on how busy different stations and routes have been over different periods in the previous weeks, and some allow you to filter your search by off-peak travel only. You can check the most recent information for your journey with the following companies, via these links:

Train OperatorLink to Quieter Times Information
Great Northern Rail 
Great Western Railway 
Greater Anglia 
London North Eastern Railway
Southeastern Railway 
Southwestern Railway (London stations)
Thameslink Railway
Transpennine Express 
Transport for Wales 
West Midlands Railway 

Christmas dates to avoid for emptier carriages 

The busiest travel dates around Christmas and New Year are usually the 22nd and 23rd of December, but with Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, it’s likely that the 24th will be an additional busy day in 2021. If possible, aim to do your Christmas train travel on the 20th or 21st if you’re keen to beat the crowds. With New Year’s Eve falling on a Friday, it’s reasonable to anticipate the 31st being a  busy day for travel, too. 

Train operators still enforcing wearing masks onboard

From the 30th November 2021 you will be required by law to wear a face covering on trains and at stations. Of course, this does not apply to anyone who has a medical exemption from wearing a mask but can offer reassurance to those nervous about travelling.

When planning your journey, please check the latest government advice. You can find more information about this by checking the appropriate government website for England, Scotland and Wales.

General sanitation

The majority of train carriages are well-ventilated via air-conditioning systems which help to keep a cycle of clean air passing through, as well as via windows that can be opened (though this can get chilly in the winter months!). Ventilation systems on the UK’s trains are highly effective at replacing air in rail carriages, meaning that virus transmission risk on trains is lower than in other indoor environments.

Rail operators are also continuing to carry out Covid-oriented cleaning regimes, with increased cleaning for surfaces like ticket machines, grab rails, stair handrails and door buttons, and the use of powerful sanitising products that provide long-lasting protection against viruses, bacteria and pathogens.

Feeling safe during Christmas train travel

Reports have shown that your risk of contracting Covid from an hour-long train journey with no social distancing or face coverings is less than 0.01% (around 1 in 11,000 journeys) with the risk halving to around 0.005% if face coverings are worn. 

Meanwhile, the Rail Delivery Group says that more than 1,000 weekday services have been added throughout the UK since February 2021, with longer trains and increased capacity making it easier than ever for people to socially distance themselves.

Travelling may still feel nerve-wracking, but rest assured that the UK’s rail services are doing everything they can to ensure all rail users have a safe and comfortable journey, wherever they’re travelling from and wherever they’re headed.