TRAIN times for Hereford and the wider region are suddenly changing as Transport for Wales brings in an emergency timetable to prepare for an "Omicron surge"

The company said the emergency timetables, which started on Wednesday, were to prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

They would help Transport for Wales (TfW), which runs trains between South and North Wales via Hereford, Leominster and Ludlow, to ensure it can continue to provide a reliable service throughout this stage of the pandemic.

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

Absences were also expected to continue to "rise sharply over the coming weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant" and TfW said this was way a temporary amended timetable would be in force over the festive period.

While the company said it would continue to offer a "significantly greater level of service" compared to the start of the pandemic in 2020, the new timetable would mean a reduction in services.

It equated to between 10 and 15 per cent of the previous timetable and was designed to reduce late 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," a spokesperson said.

"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 before travelling and follow the up-to-date guidance from the Welsh Government, where most of TfW's services run.

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.”