Posted 9th May 2011

Soaring petrol prices boosted rail travel in early 2011

SOARING petrol prices have boosted train travel, according to the Association of Train Operating Companies.

ATOC is attributing a 4.8 per cent increase in passenger numbers in part to the rising cost of road fuel. The new increase means that growth over the twelve months to March was 6.6 per cent.

The new figures have been released as the Department for Transport prepares to publish the McNulty report into railway costs, which is said to include proposals for major staff reductions and has already triggered opposition from rail unions.

ATOC's statistics show that 316 million journeys were made in the first three months of 2011 – compared with 301 million a year earlier.

Journeys in London and the South East grew by 4.7 per cent, long distance journeys by 4.1 per cent and regional journeys by 5.2 per cent. 

The total for the year to March 2011 was 1.34 billion, setting a new peacetime record since the early 1920s, although the figure is thought to be exaggerated by some 5 per cent because multi-operator journeys are counted more than once.

ATOC pointed out that, nn average, petrol prices have risen at around twice the rate of rail fares over the last 12 months. Compared with April last year, petrol is up by an average of 13 per cent. Rail fares rose by an average of 6.2 per cent in January, although there were some much sharper rises on particular routes. The last few months saw a particular spike in the price of petrol, rising by 11% from mid December to mid April alone.

Research carried out by Ipsos MORI for ATOC revealed that one in six rail users said that they have switched from car to train for at least one journey during February and March this year – around half of them said that this was because of the price of petrol. 

Passenger demand forecasting measures used by the rail industry indicate that a 5 per cent rise in petrol prices can lead to around a 1 per cent rise in journeys by rail.

ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said: "It's been a strong quarter on the railways, with more and more people choosing to travel by train, despite tough economic times and tight family budgets for many. Passenger numbers continue to rise to levels not witnessed in peacetime Britain since the 1920s, with well over a billion journeys made every year.

"At a time when high petrol prices are a concern to many households, the fact that more people are choosing to travel by train underlines the vital role that rail has to play in the economy’s continued recovery."