Passenger figures continue recovery, but commuter totals fall again

The recovery of the passenger rail business is continuing in the wake of the Covid pandemic, according to new figures released by the Office of Rail and Road. But the proportion of journeys made by commuters is still declining. Annual revenue has topped £10 billion for the first time since 2019, and totalled £10.3 billion in the year to 31 March 2024. This was a 13 per cent increase if compared with the £9.1 billion in the previous year, when adjusted for inflation. In the last year before Covid, 2019-2020, revenue from passenger services was £10.4 billion. The number of people travelling by train and the distances they covered have also continued to rise. A total of 1.61 billion journeys were made between1 April 2023 and 31 March this year, which was an increase of 16 per cent compared with the previous year, although the total in 2019-20 was 1.74 billion. This was the highest figure recorded since the 1920s, although there is an element of statistical inflation because modern journey totals count each train used during a trip, and cannot take account of split ticketing. Passenger kilometres were also up, at 60.1 billion. This was a 13 per cent increase on the 53.0 billion in 2022-23, but still below the 66.7 billion kilometres travelled in 2019-2020. The earliest equivalent figure available in historical records is for 1934, when it was approximately 34 billion kilometres. Until modern times the highest totals were recorded during the Second World War. The peak of 56.7 billion kilometres was recorded in 1945, when many thousands of demobbed troops were travelling home. Meanwhile, the number of commuters is still falling. The proportion of journeys made using season tickets is down from 34 per cent in 2019-20 to 13 per cent in 2023-24, and this was two percentage points lower than in 2022-23. Commuters now account for fewer than one in eight passengers, compared with one in three before the pandemic.

Labour promises to ‘forge ahead’ with new railways

The Labour manifesto has been published today, and it promises that if the party is elected the new government will set up a National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority. It says this authority will combine existing bodies, ‘set strategic infrastructure priorities’ and ‘oversee’ project designs, scope and completion. Labour is pledging to ‘forge ahead with new roads, railways, reservoirs, and other nationally significant infrastructure’. Basic reforms of the railway industry are also set out. They include returning most of the passenger railway to public control under Great British Railways, ‘as contracts with existing operators expire or are broken through a failure to deliver’. Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said last night that if her party came to power next month, she would be asking ’for early advice’ about whether Avanti West Coast had ‘already breached’ its contract and whether she would be able to end that contract earlier than the next break point, which would occur in October 2026. Open access services, which the manifesto describes as ‘an important part of the rail system’, will continue. Mayors will have a part in designing the services in their areas, while there will be a duty to promote and increase rail freight. A ‘tough new passenger watchdog’ will be formed, as predicted in Labour’s earlier document, Getting Britain moving, which was published in April.