Mask or face the music


Walking past Rye railway station on Monday, a sign on the main doors of the waiting room caught my eye, doubting my own eyesight (which isn’t as good as it was) I got up close, which confirmed what I thought it said was true, a maximum fine of £6,400 could apply if you travel on a train without a face covering (unless exempt).

Still thinking there had been a misprint, I went on to the National Rail Enquiries website which confirmed the message was correct. I then felt it useful to share the question and answer section with our readers as quoted verbatim below:

“To help stop the potential spread of coronavirus, the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments have decided that the wearing of face coverings when travelling by train or other public transport is compulsory in all parts of Britain. So, if you travel by train, make sure you bring a face covering to wear.

“To find out if you are exempt from wearing a face covering on National Rail, see our Face Covering Exemptions page. Below is a short frequently asked questions that tells you all you need to know to follow this new rule, which will apply on all rail services for your entire journey.

What is a face covering?
“The government’s instructions state that a face covering is a cloth that should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head.

Will face coverings be provided or available to buy at the station?
“Not necessarily. You should bring your own face covering. We are, however, starting to install vending machines in some stations to make it easier for you to buy a face covering if you forget to bring one some operators are distributing face coverings where supplies are available while people adjust to the new rules.

Where does this apply – just on trains or in stations too?
“Face coverings are mandatory on board the train and in all enclosed areas of railway stations, from when you enter a station, throughout your journey and exiting the station at the other end. If you are then moving onto the bus, tram or tube, you should avoid taking off your face covering while interchanging and avoid touching your face or mouth unnecessarily.

Can’t I just pull my t-shirt up around my face?
“No. Face coverings are now mandatory on board all trains. We need to be sure that everyone is following the new rules and so you must bring a separate face covering with you for this specific purpose.

What if I cannot wear a face covering for medical reasons or due to a disability?
“You can still use public transport. We want you to be able to travel with dignity and our staff will act considerately towards those who cannot wear a face covering due to their disability or medical condition.

Do children require face coverings?
“Children under 11 are not required to wear face coverings.

What do rail staff do to make sure people wear face coverings on trains?
“Rail staff engage and educate customers about the mandatory use of face coverings when they travel by train and encourage people to wear them. The vast majority of people do the right thing and help protect others by bringing and wearing a face covering while in stations and on trains. Unless they have a good reason, those that don’t wear a face covering could receive a £6,400 fine from the British Transport Police.

Why are people allowed on my train without face coverings?
“Some people may not be able to wear a face covering due to medical conditions which may not always be apparent. Please do not confront other passengers. Anyone that is not exempt from wearing a face covering can get a £6,400 fine from the police or Transport for London enforcement officers.

What do I do with my face covering when I am finished with it?
“We encourage you to use a reusable face covering where possible as these are better for the environment. If you have a disposable face covering then please take it home to dispose of it or put it in the normal bins, available on stations at the end of your journey.

What should I do if I am sitting in a carriage with someone who is not wearing a face covering?
“We are confident that the vast majority of people will want to do the right thing and help protect others by bringing and wearing a face covering while in stations and on trains. Please also be aware that some people may not be able to wear a face covering due to medical issues. Regardless of whether someone is wearing a face covering, you should try to keep your distance.

Can I remove my face covering to eat or drink?
“Yes. If a passenger needs to temporarily remove a face covering whilst eating, drinking or taking medication whilst maintaining social distancing, then this should be permitted with an expectation that they replace it to continue their journey. We kindly ask passengers to keep the removal of face coverings, when it comes to eating, drinking or taking medication, to a minimum especially on short journeys.

Do disabled people need to wear a face covering?
“People with a disability or illness that means that they cannot wear a face covering can still travel by train. Government guidance states that you do not have to wear a face covering if:

  • If you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering.
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress.
  • If you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.
  • If you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering.

We are asking our staff to be considerate when using their discretion. The following kinds of illness or disability may mean someone does not need to wear a face covering:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Conditions affecting dexterity
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorders
  • Autism
  • Dementia
  • Visual impairments or with a restricted field of vision
  • Anyone reliant on lip reading – including companions or carers for whom a face covering would impede their ability to communicate

People are also permitted to remove their face covering to take medication. Our staff are also being briefed about this.

You can view the government guidance on exemptions to face coverings here or see ‘Face Covering Exemptions’ page.

I am deaf or living with hearing loss and I need to lip read. Do I need to use a face covering? Can staff remove their face coverings?
“If you need to remove your face covering or ask a member of staff to remove theirs to communicate, please remember to give staff two metres space to ensure that social distancing can be adhered to. If staff are behind screens and light is reflecting on the screen, please ask if they could write down any information for you or move to enable you to lip read. There is more details FAQs on our Assisted Travel FAQs page.

If you are reliant on lip reading – for example with companions or carers – for your journey, you will not be expected to wear a covering when communicating.

If you can, please wear a face covering when not communicating for your safety.

I have a mental health condition that means I cannot wear a face covering. Will staff be made aware that I am exempt?
“Yes. We will brief staff to ensure that they are considerate and discrete when engaging customers about wearing a face covering.

Do I need to provide proof I cannot wear a face covering?
“No. Staff will be briefed to understand that any customer who is living with a disability or health condition will not be required to provide any proof”.

Image Credits: Nick Forman , National Rail .

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  1. Very informative Nick – I think the message is clear to everyone wishing to use trains or any other means of public transport!

    • Very clear, but not everyone is responsible or reasonable as we know.

      It’s like in the supermarket etc., those who just don’t want to/won’t wear a face covering seem to be able to simply say they are exempt in some way [as many exemptions are not physically evident], with no need to substantiate or prove the exemption. This makes the whole thing impossible to effectively police – how many fines could/are actually levied? Surely anyone challenged just says they are exempt, are not required to substantiate, and go on their way?

      Other countries require a formal proof of exemption [on public transport, supermarkets etc] – rather like a parking blue badge. Why that could not happen in UK for these policies to be universal and effective remains a mystery.


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