Journeys slump to 19th century levels

Empty stations, empty trains: this view from Leeds was representative of scenes across the rail network earlier this year. Courtesy Network Rail

Passenger usage of the rail network between April and June fell to levels last seen in the mid-19th century, according to data from the Office of Rail and Road.

ORR estimates 35 million journeys were made during the first quarter of 2020-21 (Q1), more than 400 million fewer than the same period the previous year, as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions took effect. Of the three franchised sectors, London and the South East was relatively the busiest, with 28 million journeys in Q1, 9.1% of the amount for the same period the previous year. The busiest operator nationally in Q1 was Govia Thameslink Railway, which recorded 7.5 million journeys, with the 369,000 journeys recorded by TfW Rail the lowest of any operator. Journeys in the long-distance sector were at 6.4% of the level the previous year, with the highest relative usage at LNER. In the regional sector the number of journeys in Q1 was 5.5% of those made in the same period in 2019-20, with Merseyrail relatively the busiest operator and ScotRail and TfW Rail the quietest. Passenger revenue during Q1 was £184 million, 6.9% of what it was in the same period the previous year.

The Rail Delivery Group pointed out that the lowest recorded use of season tickets in any quarter since the time series began in 1994-95 highlights the need for flexible ticketing. Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions at RDG, said: ‘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.’