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Rail passenger numbers fell ‘dramatically’ in March, says ORR

THE Office of Rail and Road has published the first statistics which include the early weeks of the lockdown. As expected, the number of people travelling by train fell ‘dramatically’ in March, reducing the total figure for Quarter 4 (January to March) by 51 million compared with the same quarter last year.

The greatest decline was in the Long Distance sector, where the total for the quarter was down by 16.3 per cent. Journeys in London and the South East, which include many commuters, fell back by 11.9 per cent, while travel on lines in the Regional sector declined by 7.9 per cent. Journeys made on season tickets in all three sectors were 9.8 per cent fewer, amounting to a drop of 16.7 million.

The ORR added that the figures excluded journeys not made on Advance tickets which would have been bought before the lockdown, and so the real fall in total passenger numbers was probably greater still.

The effect on the revenues of rail franchises would have been severe, but the government stepped in on 23 March and converted all English franchises into ‘no risk’ management contracts which will run until at least September. The open access operators Hull Trains and Grand Central suspended all their services a week or so later. They did not qualify for management contracts as they do not have franchises.

The ORR’s railway planning and performance director Graham Richards said: ‘The first quarter stats for this financial year for rail passenger usage (April–June) will obviously show further decline in numbers but these stats show the start of the unprecedented fall in passenger numbers. This can be attributed almost entirely to the measures taken by passengers in the middle of March as they heeded government advice to stay at home and only travel if it was essential.

‘For people starting to use the rail network as measures are eased, we’re working with the industry to provide health and safety advice and guidance, and continue to monitor the reality on the ground to ensure people have the confidence that they can travel safely.’

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