Although UK rail travel remains restricted to essential travel there will be changes from Monday May 18, 2020.

That is when some Train Operating Companies (TOCs) will be increasing their schedules.

That is the good news.  On the downside travellers may have to obtain seat reservations.

This is to reflect social-distancing measures.

I say “may” because there are many TOCs and not all TOCs are in agreement for one reason or another.

For example, Avanti West Coast which operates over the West Coast Main Line (with a mixture of outer-suburban and mainline services) says that if passengers do not hold a reservation “there is no guarantee you will be able to board.”

In the case of LNER, which operates almost only mainline trains over the East Coast Main Line, you will find seat reservations are compulsory from 1100 hrs on May 18 when checking


This requirement from LNER applies whether you purchased your ticket from LNER, from another TOC or through an online rail agent such as Trainline.

Details are complex so I suggest you refer to each TOC’s website.

Indeed not every TOC has yet finalised its plans for travel on and after May 18.

And in the case of Scotrail,  although more services were planned initially, these will now not start on May 18 as Scotland decided not to ease travel restrictions.

Matters are different at open access firms like Hull Trains and Grand Central.

As we reported recently, both train companies suspended operations and will not restart on May 18.

Why? Because the government is helping the TOCs (which pay franchise fees) during COVID-19 with increased funding to compensate for their reduced schedules and lower passenger volumes.

Similar financial help is not being granted to the above-named open access firms (which pay no franchise fees) at present.

Finally we suggest readers intending to make essential journeys on and from May 18 check with the train operator for the latest information.