Like other businesses and organisations across the country, the lockdown restrictions introduced by the Government to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have had a big impact on our day-to-day operations. As well as successfully introducing a temporary shoreside tolling system to meet the Covid 19 social distancing requirements, Tamar Crossings staff have worked very hard to maintain the two remaining ferries to provide a consistent service for customers while LYNHER was undergoing her five yearly refit. In addition to carrying out routine planned maintenance on the two ferries, the technical team have had to replace the badly worn pulleys in LYNHER’s chain tensioning gantries and deal with other unexpected technical problems within the constraints imposed by Covid 19. The ferry crews have had to manage the severe constraints imposed by the early lockdown, followed by managing shoreside tolling at the same time as continuing to operate the ferries safely and then the subsequent resumption of onboard tolling, all of which has led to a significant increase in workload and changes in working practices.
Although we were in the final stages of recruiting a number of new staff to fill vacancies within the ferry operations team in March, this process had to be suspended when the country went into lockdown. At the same time a number of existing staff have been self-isolating or shielding as a result of the virus. With shoreside tolling requiring significantly more staff than the normal onboard tolling system, this has meant that many of our staff have been unable to take any leave this year.
While we have now interviewed and offered contracts to a number of candidates, they will require training before they can take up their new posts. Additionally some elements of ongoing training for existing staff had to be suspended because of the operational pressure to keep the service running. This also has to be completed as quickly as possible.
Although routine maintenance work has been carried out on the two remaining ferries to keep them running during the past five months, it has not been possible to complete all the works required to ensure their longer term availability. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Lloyds Register are also resuming their normal programme of inspections and surveys which was suspended during the lockdown.
Work on the LYNHER gantries is due to be completed by the middle of August, resulting in three ferries being available for service. However, resuming a three ferry service before all the new staff are in post will create significant pressure on staffing levels, making it very difficult to complete outstanding staff training and enable existing staff to take leave. It will also reduce flexibility in carrying out the remaining maintenance work on the other two ferries, and in fulfilling the regulation and inspection programmes.
As a result we are delaying the re-introduction of the three ferry service until Saturday, 29 August. This will enable us to use LYNHER as one of the two ferries in operation while works are carried out on the PLYM and TAMAR in turn.
We recognise that continuing with a two-ferry service for an additional two weeks may create some delays at peak time. However the impact of COVID 19 means that, like many other organisations, we have some significant catching up to do in terms of both staffing and technical issues.
Although we have seen a recent increase in traffic, it is still currently running at around 80% of the normal August levels. With the Government committed to the re-opening of all schools in September and more people expected to return to their workplaces after the summer holidays, we want to ensure that we are in a strong position to manage a further increase in traffic levels.
Completing all of the outstanding works and giving staff the opportunity to take leave in August, while traffic levels still remain lower than usual, will enable us to resume and maintain a three ferry service in time for the bank holiday weekend.
The challenges presented by the Covid 19 pandemic have been huge at both the Bridge and the Ferry.
I am very proud of the fact that we have continued to deliver as normal a level of service as possible at both crossings.
I would like to thank our customers for their patience during these challenging times.
I would also like to thank Tamar Crossings staff for the positive and professional way in which they have adapted and continued to work during this crisis.