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Rail passenger totals fall back to 1850s levels

THE number of people travelling by train has fallen back to levels last recorded at the end of the 1850s, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New statistics from the Office of Rail and Road have revealed that 35 million journeys are estimated to have been made in the first quarter of 2020-21 (April to June). This is a decrease of more than 400 million compared to the same quarter last year, demonstrating the effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on passenger numbers. The annual equivalent total would be in the region of 140 million.

Revenue was also sharply down at £184 million for the quarter, compared with the £2.7 billion collected a year earlier.

More journeys were recorded in London and the South East compared to the rest of the country. Govia Thameslink Railway recorded 7.5 million passenger journeys this quarter, the most of any operator.

Transport for Wales Rail recorded the lowest number at 369,000. The one million journeys made on ScotRail this quarter are just 4.3 per cent of the journeys made in the same quarter a year earlier. This was the lowest percentage for any operator.

Recent estimates published by the Department for Transport show that current national rail use was predicted to be 32 per cent of what would be expected on an equivalent day.

Graham Richards, who is the ORR’s director of railway planning and performance, said: ‘This unprecedented fall in passenger numbers, the largest on record to levels last seen in the mid-nineteenth century, has clearly had an impact on both rail usage and also ticketing revenue.

‘These figures include the period of lockdown and reassuringly we’re now seeing passenger numbers slowly increase. ORR has worked closely with the industry, and continues to do so, to ensure the necessary health and safety advice and guidance is in place.’

The director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group Robert Nisbet said: ‘Rail travel is the economic lifeblood of our towns and cities. With the majority of company bosses planning to keep some home working beyond the pandemic, train companies are keen to work with government to introduce flexible season tickets that will incentivise more people safely back on to trains.

‘Fares reform is a crucial component of wider industry proposals to enable train operators to better respond to the rapidly evolving needs of their local customers.’

Back to Victorian days
(railway passenger numbers in millions)

1855 — 118.6 
1856 — 129.3 
1857 — 139.0 
1858 — 139.2 
1859 — 149.8 
1860 — 163.4

[source: Railhub]

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