GREAT Western Railway (GWR) is set to increase the number of trains it runs as schools and colleges across its network prepare to return to the classroom next week.

Rail services were reduced when a third nationwide lockdown was introduced in January, and the rail operator - which runs across the West Country, South Wales and much of Southern England - is implementing a phased return to its previous, full timetable.

The train operator has reviewed its database of ‘school trains’, services that students and pupils use in high numbers, to ensure that those services where they have been removed are reinstated for Monday, March 8, the date when students are set to return.

Extra staff will also be on hand at key stations to help provide advice and guidance to passengers.

The increase will see the train operator return to approximately 70 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 (December 2019) timetable, with a further increase planned for Monday, March 29, to support any easing of government travel guidance, prior to the usual Summer timetable change in May.

GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: “Following confirmation that all schools and colleges will return on Monday, March 8, all our key school and college services will be operating.

“Many are already running but, where they are not, we will have them reinstated to support students, pupils and returning staff.

“Over the last year, we have worked closely with colleges and schools as well as our colleagues on mapping these services, and a lot of hard work has been done to make sure people feel that they can travel safely and with confidence.

“As restrictions ease over the course of the coming months and more passengers return to the railway, we will continue to restore services to our timetable."