Hundreds of daily trains are being cut from schedules in an attempt to improve reliability after weeks of short-term cancellations.
At least eight operators have already cut frequencies on many routes or will do so in the coming days in response to staff shortages linked to the pandemic.
Passengers traveling on New Years Eve also face major disruption due to industrial action.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said a 24-hour strike by its members employed by CrossCountry was “strongly supported”, resulting in the cancellation of most of the operator’s services.
In recent weeks, rail companies across Britain have cut trains on short notice due to self-isolation or staff discomfort.
Many have responded by posting condensed timetables in an attempt to create more certainty about which services they can and cannot operate.
Railways Minister Wendy Morton said: âWhile it is up to the operators to manage the schedules, I continue to monitor the situation closely. “
A spokesperson for the industry body, the Rail Delivery Group, said operators “are working hard to provide reliable rail service” amid reduced staff.
He continued, âSome rail companies are introducing modified schedules due to much lower demand for rail services.
“This could mean cancellations and changes in the short term for customers, so our advice to anyone traveling is to check online before you go or sign up for the automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, told the PA news agency: âThis is a pragmatic response to the increase in staff illnesses. But services must meet the needs of those who have yet to move, especially workers in key sectors.
âThese include protecting the first and last service, providing sufficient capacity to keep passengers a safe distance from each other, and the reliability of new schedules and accuracy of information. “
ScotRail has announced that it will introduce a temporary weekday schedule from Tuesday to January 28, as the Omicron variant has resulted in “a large number of absences.”
More than 150 daily services will be cut, including on routes such as Glasgow to Edinburgh via Airdrie / Bathgate; Glasgow Central to Lanark; Edinburgh to North Berwick; and Edinburgh to Tweedbank.
SWR has announced that it will operate a new schedule from January 17, as the Omicron variant has had a “significant impact on our services”.
The operator said in a statement: “Our goal is to produce a deliverable schedule to improve reliability for our customers and meet the needs of key workers, school children and those who cannot work from home. . “
He did not disclose which services are being removed.
Greater Anglia has announced that it will not operate around 70 services per weekday next week due to a combination of “falling passenger numbers” and staff shortages.
This will affect routes such as Norwich to London Liverpool Street; Colchester in Ipswich; Cambridge to Ipswich; and Norwich to Great Yarmouth.
Southern announced Thursday that it would not serve London Victoria – one of the busiest stations in the UK – until January 10 due to “isolation and coronavirus disease”.
Great Northern, Thameslink and Hull Trains also unveiled reduced schedules.
CrossCountry has removed around 50 trains from its schedule between Mondays and Saturdays from December 27 to January 8.
The industrial action affecting the company on New Years Eve involves train directors and senior conductors in a row over the role of guards.
CrossCountry said passengers were “strongly urged to change their plans and avoid travel.”
It does not operate any train between these locations: Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby and Nottingham; Peterborough and Stansted; Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot and Paignton; and Plymouth and Penzance.
A âseverely reduced serviceâ is in place between Edinburgh and Plymouth; Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth; and Birmingham New Street and Peterborough.