Posted 11th December 2014 | 4 Comments

Passenger figures rise again

NEW statistics published today by the Office of Rail Regulation say that the number of passenger journeys on franchised rail services reached 407.7 million between July and September this year, a 4.4 per cent increase on the same quarter last year. The ORR said it was the highest number of journeys recorded in a quarter since the present series of data collection began in 2002-03.

The ORR reports that 284.1 million journeys were recorded in the franchised London and South East sector (up 4.3 per cent since last year), 33.6 million journeys in the franchised long distance sector (up 3,5 per cent) and 90 million journeys in the franchised regional sector (up 5.5 per cent). There were also 540,000 journeys made on open access passenger services, an increase of 16.0 per cent.

Railnews analysis

The equivalent annual total would be at least 1.6 billion journeys, but it is known that these figures are inflated by the way the industry Lennon database records rail travel, logging each leg of a journey rather than whole journeys.

This statistical inflation appears to be around 17 per cent, when Lennon figures are compared with journeys within and between regions in Britain, which are counted only once, no matter how complex they are.

Even so, the total would seem to be approaching 1.35 billion 'originating' journeys, a total which has not been previously recorded in peacetime since the 1920s. The last time passenger figures topped 1.3 billion was in 1945, when the flood of demobbed forces personnel boosted the total to 1.371 billion. This was the highest figure of the war years, and it quickly fell after peace was restored, falling just below one billion by 1948 and only recovering slightly during most of the 1950s. After the Beeching closures of the 1960s the total tended to fall still further until it reached a floor of 630 million in 1982 during a period of prolonged industrial action and national recession.

This proved to be the lowest total in the twentieth century and it has since risen again fairly consistently, both before and since the launch of private sector passenger franchises in 1996.

Some sources, including the government, often claim that privatisation has boosted rail travel, but Financial Times correspondent Jonathan Ely wrote on 22 August this year: "The government likes to claim that privatisation has resulted in record passenger numbers. This seems rather dubious; how can we know how many of the extra passengers are because of general population growth, rising house prices, more expensive petrol or congestion on the roads?"

Whatever, the causes, the continuing growth in demand may be a matter for some celebration but it also poses problems for the industry, which was rationalised severely between the 1960s and 1980s and is now under major pressure on a number of key routes, particularly the West Coast Main Line.

© Railnews 2014

Reader Comments:

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

  • andrew blurton, Stafford

    Where are the new railway lines in the UK being built at a time when the population is rising & the rail network is becoming more dangerous for the travelling public to make safer journeys more safely during anytime of the day & year & also during the rush hour when it is now becoming too much more chaotic & getting the public home more safely & happily & operating with severe weather conditions & also not enough railway lines operating or even built at all to create better diversionary operations between all local communities & towns & cities regarding the sized of population it could be in public would the transport secretary be prepared to consider these matters & suggest idea's & be more helpful with the train operators where their network is now becoming very poor too much & more people are now travelling unfairly like this carelessly & dangerously!
    Why should all the general public keep making dangerous journeys everyday on a rail network with no capacity or even fit for its purpose & operation & also operating with not enough trains or railway lines in their own area or region & territory & more people now standing where they do not do these situations with any aircraft operator or any high speed line operator in Europe & more people travelling in Europe as well!

    (Growth in Britain has been much greater than on other European railways, as Railnews has reported. Standing passengers are not permitted on any High Speed trains as a rule, including Eurostar.--Editor.)

  • Brainforge, Herts

    (A) Population growth. Strong case for attributing part of that to the increase. But new residential / business developments were not part of Beeching remit and have tended to disfavour rail.

    (B) Road congestion / stress good reason for using rail / bus.

    But like with Beeching recent announcement to double whole A303 failed to mention double tracking the whole Salisbury - Exeter route. Oh well, I suppose we will see the numbers drop as a result....

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I would like to know how much of the Travel is paid by Employers - eg staff going to Training Courses - and how much by ordinary People. It would be nice to know how much is considered 'Leisure Travel' and how much 'Commuting'. It might let us understand and estimate long-term growth of the Network, and so make provision for it. I certainly used the Railways more when it was going on my employers bill. Some of the increase must be down to better provision of services by the Operators, but how much is unclear. Great Western have been very generous in the Reading Area offering Free Returns for a Couples as Raffle Prizes for local schools Christmas Fayres. (Unfortunately I didn't win any of them but it was a great advertisement for them.)

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    You mention that the Lennon database inflates journeys by counting each leg and not the whole journey. So if I travel from say Benfleet to Gospel Oak I make one journey but in order to do this I need to travel Benfleet to Barking and Barking to Gospel Oak so Lennon is more accurate as otherwise my goblin part won't be counted !

    In fact the biggest error by Dr Beeching was the way he simply looked as line usage without considering journeys that involved several lines .

    Which lead to the loss of many useful lines because his remit was wrong as it should have started by looking at the rail network and how it could be better used as a network but as he had no working knowledge of railways he could not do this leading to the loss of lines like the GCR .

    The spread of ITSO ticcketing providing a way of logging journeys like TFL do en route should help to gather better information on rail use broken down by each leg especially when changes involve changing lines .

    It's interesting to note how rail use is still rising despite the recent fall in fuel prices but this fall will make no difference to the increasing number of people who don't own a car either through choice or they can't afford one at today's costs !