TO TRAVEL or not to travel? That is the question.

As of Friday, the Government lifted its advice which urged people only to use public transport for essential journeys.

Now anyone can use the UK’s transport systems at will, providing they wear a face mask.

But, with this update, should people now head straight to their nearest station and hop aboard the the first train available?

The Argus spoke to Southern Rail’s customer services director Chris Fowler to find out.

Mr Fowler said: “We are obviously very keen to get people back on to public transport if the need to get around.

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“The travel advice has changed now to ‘travel safely’ so as a country and as an industry we have moved away from that ‘do not travel unless essential’ message.”

And, with people now able to move more freely again, Mr Fowler said he believed trains could be the key to unlocking a more pleasurable experience in Sussex’s cities.

He said: “I’ve noticed it where I live, I’m sure you have noticed it in Brighton, since we have had no cars on the road the air quality actually feels better when you’re walking down the road.

“If one of the outcomes of this is that everyone moves to private cars, that’s going to be a disaster ecologically and, for us, in terms of enjoying our cities.

“I’m a perpetual pedestrian, and it’s nice to have that space away from cars.

“So we want people to know that public transport is safe and we want people to use it rather than going back into cars.”

He explained that all trains Southern operated in Brighton and Hove are electric and so they are not producing any emissions in the city.

Mr Fowler said: “It’s not just about connecting people from outside of Brighton into the city. We have about a dozen stations in the city limits.

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“You can get from west to east, across the city, using our services and that has got to be better than jumping in your car and making the same journey.”

But, despite the fact that the company is keen to welcome passengers back on to its trains, Mr Fowler said that this is not the priority, and it never had been.

He said: “When we saw customer numbers dip at the start of lockdown we were pleased actually, that people were following that government guidance.

“The business side of it hasn’t really come into it because we knew that, for the good of everyone, people needed to follow that advice and we are happy that people have done that.”

He explained that Southern’s customers had been “fantastic” in following all the latest guidance, most recently with a strong uptake of face coverings after they became mandatory on public transport on June 15.

Mr Fowler said: “Yes, when you go through or a station or a train, or you get on a bus, you will see people not wearing a mask. That’s particularly prevalent in the younger age bracket.

“I suppose it’s possible that people have seen the evidence that it doesn’t affect younger people so much, but actually masks are there to protect other people and it’s a responsibility for everyone to wear them.”

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However, he said that compliance had been very high and they “had not had to worry about enforcement”.

Face coverings are not the only measure in place to protect customers.

Mr Fowler explained that capacity limits have been set for each train to allow social distancing to be maintained.

He said: “A Class 700, which are the grey Thameslink trains, can, at the height of the rush hour, take about 1,700 people.

“With social distancing at two metres, that falls to 180, maximum. So capacity has been a real issue for us.

“With public transport, the railways are built to move a lot of people as quickly as possible. When you bring in social distancing that ‘a lot of people’ element falls out. It’s not what we were built for.

“So we have been really keeping an eye on how we are doing with our capacity because we want to make sure that people have as much space on our trains as possible.”

On top of this, stations and trains are regularly cleaned with high-grade products.

So, is it safe?

“It is safe,” Mr Fowler said. “Check before you travel, wash your hands and wear a face covering. If you do all of those things then you are very welcome to come back to the railway.”