Rail passengers are being asked to check before they travel as Transport for Wales introduced an ‘emergency rail timetable’ from Wednesday (December 22).

This is to prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and to ensure the company can continue to provide a reliable service throughout this latest stage of the pandemic.

TfW and Network Rail have already seen a significant increase in staff absences since the beginning of December and this has started to impact rail services.

Absences are expected to continue to rise sharply over the coming weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant and therefore TfW will introduce a temporary amended timetable over the festive period.

Whilst the company will continue to offer a significantly greater level of service compared to during the start of the pandemic in 2020, the new timetable will mean a marginal reduction in services.

This equates to between 10-15 per cent of the current timetable and is designed to reduce late notice cancellations as much as possible. It is aimed to provide customers with more reliability, allowing them to plan their journeys effectively over this important period.

Furthermore, the first, last and busiest services will continue to operate wherever possible. There will also be no change to the current level of service provided on the Sunday timetable.

The new timetable will remain in place over the coming weeks and will be reviewed regularly as the rail industry in Wales monitors the impact of the new Omicron variant on staff levels.

All customers are urged to check www.tfw.wales before travelling and follow the up-to-date guidance from the Welsh Government.

Colin Lea, TfW Planning and Performance Director said: “We are still very much dealing with a pandemic and have seen a major rise in colleague absences over the last few weeks. Since the beginning of December, the number of rail colleagues absent due to Covid-19 has doubled and this will continue to rise with the ongoing risk of the new Omicron variant.

“It’s fundamental we continue to run as reliable a service as possible for our customers and therefore we are introducing a new timetable from Wednesday, December 22, reducing the risk of late notice cancellations.

“Wherever we can, we’ll use any additional carriages made available due to the reduced timetable to run longer trains than normal, to aid with social distancing and provide supplementary road transport, when possible.

“We appreciate this will be frustrating for some customers, and we have not taken this decision lightly. We ask that all customers check online before they travel and follow all advice from Welsh Government.

“I’d also like to thank all our colleagues who are continuing to work in difficult conditions.”

Rachel Heath, Network Rail’s Operations Manager for Wales & Western, said: “Our colleagues are working very hard in very challenging circumstances and are dedicated to keeping the country moving, as they did during the height of the pandemic.

“However, we are currently dealing with high levels of sickness across the rail industry due to the virus which, unfortunately, means we may have to make difficult decisions, at short notice, that impact rail services.

“We will continue to give clear and timely updates on any changes that might affect passengers’ journeys and we ask that everyone checks their journey before travelling.”

Customers who have already purchased tickets for services affected by this change will be able to use their tickets on alternative TfW rail services.

Alternatively, they will be able to request a refund by visiting www.tfw.wales.

Transport for Wales are working with British Transport Police on a joint operation over the festive period to keep passengers safe.

Operation Genesis will see extra officers and rail staff out across the network throughout December to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour, as well as provide reassurance and personal safety advice to the public.

BTP Superintendent for Wales, Andy Morgan, said: “We want to everyone to enjoy the festive season and we’ll be working closely with our partners to make sure everyone gets home safely.

“Rail is one of the safest ways to travel - but we see how alcohol can really affect judgement, people often take greater risks, and standards of decency and general behaviour can worsen.

“We urge passengers to take extra care of themselves and others during this period to make sure they have a safe journey and take responsibility for their own behaviour.

“As well as having extra officers on hand across the network, we want to remind passengers of our discreet text service. Save the number ‘61016’ in your phone, in case you ever need our assistance on the railway.”