The Transport Support Unit has been developed to make use of unused vehicles and volunteers to help support the national effort to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“At the beginning of this crisis we reduced services like rail and buses, whilst securing their continuation to enable critical workers and others to make essential journeys. Lower ridership means we have spare transport capacity which I have directed to be used for logistical tasks in the fight against this virus,” said Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps.
“By making use of the people and the resources of the Department for Transport, its agencies and arm’s length bodies, we will be helping NHS trusts and local resilience groups to fight the pandemic.”
There are now reportedly 8,500 specialist volunteers from across the transport sector, and around 9,000 vehicles which can support the national effort. This includes four fixed-wing aircraft owned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (one of them a Boeing 737), helicopters, ships and trains.
Together, they hope to move emergency patients and medical supplies, deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals, and distribute food parcels to vulnerable people.
Vehicles from Highways England will also act as mobile COVID-19 testing centres. Network Rail is also making available its seven regional distribution centres which can be used to support the effort.
“This work is underway and I would like to thank all those taking part, like the Network Rail engineers who helped fit out the Nightingale hospital in Manchester,” Shapps continued.
“I have also given the green light to trials of drones delivering medical supplies. Earlier this year, we awarded £28 million to Southampton and Portsmouth to develop a Future Transport Zone. As part of that initiative, £8 million was earmarked for testing drones, and how they might be used for delivering goods in the years and decades ahead.
“Of course, now we have an urgent need, so we’re making use of that testing programme as part of our response to COVID-19. As a result, I have fast-tracked trials to begin to carry medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital, near Newport on the Isle of Wight.”
The DfT has also made funding available to keep England’s trams operating. This will keep open five light rail networks in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, West Midlands and Tyne and Wear.
“As the country works hard to beat this virus, it’s vital we come together and help each other,” Shapps concluded.