Posted 12th March 2012 | 8 Comments

Rail travel sets new record

NEW FIGURES published today show that the number of railway passengers in Britain has reached a level not seen for 90 years, and may be close to setting an all time record. The Association of Train Operating Companies said that the number of rail passengers rose by 6 per cent last year. It's attributing the increase partly to the soaring price of petrol.

The latest figures produced by the industry ticketing database LENNON suggest that the total number of passengers reached about 1.4 billion last year, which is 30 million more than the figure recorded in 1945, when the demand for rail travel was boosted to historically high levels by troops travelling home from war service.

Previously, the total had only reached similar heights in the early 1920s, but this proved to be a brief boom because travel declined again as the post-war recession took its toll.

One difference now is that the size of the network has halved over the past 90 years, which means that, on average, each track kilometre is now busier than ever before.

ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said the rising cost of motoring was playing its part, and pointed to a poll commissioned by the Association which suggested that more than a quarter of rail users had switched from car to train for at least one journey over the last few months. Around a third of those who switched said that they had done so because of the price of petrol. 

""People are voting with their feet and wallets by choosing to travel by train in growing numbers. Operators have attracted people to the railways by providing a range of affordable tickets and cut price deals," he said.

He continued: "The rising cost of motoring also means that rather than automatically reaching for the car keys, more and more people are heading to the station to get from A to B.

"The latest figures show the growing popularity of booking ahead to cash in on cheap advance tickets. But they also show that the walk-up railway continues to offer value to passengers, with train companies selling a record 365 million off-peak tickets over the last year."

The new figures have been published just a few days after the Department for Transport unveiled its railway Command Paper, saying that the industry must reduce its costs drastically over the next few years.

As she launched the Command Paper, transport secretary Justine Greening warned: "The hallmarks of our railway must be high standards and low costs… a railway that offers the best services and the best value. That means a rail network which is efficient, effective and affordable."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Simon Ellis, Reading

    Quite why railway companies require passengers to book in advance is a mystery. It is not as though any train will be lengthened, shortened or even cancelled as a result of advance bookings. A great advantage of rail travel should be flexibility.

  • Deltic08, Railless Ripon

    Walk up fares on the day are outrageous. I don't even bother anymore. I always reach for my car keys now. Even trying to book a few days ahead on long distance journeys is UNAFFORDABLE. I decided at the last minute to go to a funeral 200 miles away. Tried booking online the day before. £230 same day return by train. Twice that had my wife accompanied me. £60 of diesel by car. Nearly 5 hours door to door by noisy vibrating Voyager and Sprinter. Under 4 hours door to door by quieter car. Who is Mr Michael Roberts trying to kid?It's all spin.Not everybody can plan THREE MONTHS ahead to get cheaper fares. Train travel is a joke and just a rip-off. Wasn't so before privatisation. People should come first, not train operators. Should be a social, non profit making service again for the people and not a cash cow for the likes of Branson.

  • Philip Russell, Carlisle

    Many observers seem to suggest vertical integration as the cure for all the railways ills,it may be the ansewer to many but we should be careful we dont return to the dark days of the dominant operator running down services to avoid investment and enable closure as happened with the settle and carlisle etc and more recently waterford to rosslare in ireland

  • Bill, Glasgow

    There are now ticket barriers at many stations which encourage people to pay for travel

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    As I understand LENNON, its all about tickets.

    Without doubt, trains are getting more crowded; but is there a possibility that apples are being compared with oranges here?

    On the dates used for comparisons, as a general rule one ticket equaled one journey; but that isn't necessarily the case now; when I've purchased tickets for long distance journeys, there have been occasions when two or three tickets have been bought because of the savings possible, so whereas in the past a return trip would, I guess, have counted as two journeys, using LENNON that becomes four or even six.

    So does anyone know just how much growth there has actually been, when comparing passenger numbers on the same basis? Or is some kind of "fiddle factor" built into LENNON to take account of the situations I've described?

  • david smillie, inverness

    The enormous expansion of the English population in the last few years will have played a part in this. It would be interesting to have this broken down England, London, Scotland, Wales, N Ireland to see the extent to which the 'fringe' nationalities have shared in this expansion. I expect that much of this will be in London and the Home Counties.

  • Ian Dinmore, Norwich

    Almost keeping up with the fare rises!

  • Lee, Manchester

    That's an amazing coincidence isn't it? More passengers now using the railway than seen before in the last 90 years and the highest fares also not seen before in the last 90 years.

    True there are cheap advance bookings, however season tickets do seem to keep creeping up in cost don't they but better value? Trains have got shorter, catering has been cut-back from the provision of dedicated coach to an airline-style trolley service which sells food at a price that is only really competetive against motorway service station prices!

    There are more trains, but they are overcrowded. All of this hasn't happened overnight and trends must have been identified and known about for some time. Why then are we still wiaitng for additional Thameslink, etc. rolling stock, which has been presumably been paid for in advance through increased rail fares? What other improvements have been forthcoming that the traveller has paid for and perhaps not noticed?