Graffiti 'putting people off returning to railways after lockdown'

Grant Shapps launches campaign to clean up trains and stations and says 'blight' having effect on passenger confidence

Grant Shapps said graffiti can have 'an impact on the confidence of passengers'
Grant Shapps said graffiti can have 'an impact on the confidence of passengers' Credit: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Railway graffiti is discouraging people from going back to the office after lockdown, Grant Shapps has claimed.

The Transport Secretary said graffiti can have "an impact on the confidence of passengers" returning to the railways as he launched a September blitz to scrub it from trains and stations.

His comments came as Network Rail has said it was putting an additional £1 million into its current £3.5 million graffiti cleaning budget to tackle the "blight".

Mr Shapps visited London Bridge on Monday to take part in graffiti removal efforts and launch a September campaign to clean up railways and roads, and has published a letter in which he calls on Network Rail to review its response times to reports of graffiti and bolster efforts to keep the railways free from vandalism.

He said: "The blight of graffiti... can have an impact on the confidence of passengers as they return to safely using the railway, and on the wider public view of our national infrastructure and public transport. 

"Much more than that, addressing visible signs of crime and anti-social behaviour such as graffiti helps to create an environment of respect for the law. This helps to prevent more serious crimes on and around the railway network, thereby promoting passenger safety."

The railways have struggled to attract commuters back following lockdown, with figures earlier this month showing passenger numbers stuck at around 30 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels.

Rail passenger numbers have remained low since the end of lockdown Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Last week, rail operators increased timetables again to close to 90 per cent of pre-Covid levels in anticipation of a surge of parents returning to offices as children went back to school.

Network Rail and Highways England used the shutdown to target graffiti, with both agencies reporting that they had removed one third more in lockdown than during the same period last year.

The Government's blitz won support from the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, which said allowing graffiti to go unchallenged encouraged other crimes such as fly-tipping.

Richard McIlwain, the organisation's deputy chief executive, said: "Places that are covered in graffiti, particularly low-grade tagging, signal to the community at large that an area is unloved and uncared for and leads to increases in other environmental crimes such as littering and fly-tipping.

"We would urge everyone who is responsible for looking after our transport network to keep it graffiti and litter-free."