Rail journeys drop to lowest levels since mid-nineteenth century

Rail journeys drop to lowest levels since mid-nineteenth century
Empty trains: Winning back customer confidence is proving challenging for the rail industry. Photo: Chris Milner

The number of passengers using the UK’s railway has fallen to its lowest levels in around 170 years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Official statistics released by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) reveal that 35 million journeys are estimated to have been made between April and June 2020, a drop of more than 400 million during the same period last year.

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ORR said it was the lowest quarterly passenger number since the mid-19th century, around 20 years after the first scheduled passenger services were made.

Of those 35 million journeys, most were recorded in London and the South East compared to the rest of the country. Govia Thameslink Railway recorded 7.5 million passenger journeys this quarter, the most of any operator.

Transport for Wales Rail recorded the lowest number of journeys at 369,000. The one million journeys made on ScotRail this quarter equates to 4.3% of journeys made in the same quarter a year earlier.

This was the lowest percentage for any operator. Recent estimates published by the Department for Transport show that current national rail use was predicted to be 32% of what would be expected on an equivalent day.

Graham Richards, Director of Railway Planning and Performance at the Office of Rail and Road, said: “This unprecedented fall in passenger numbers, the largest on record to levels last seen in the mid-nineteenth century, has clearly had an impact on both rail usage and also ticketing revenue.

“These figures include the period of lockdown and reassuringly we’re now seeing passenger numbers slowly increase. ORR has worked closely with the industry, and continues to do so, to ensure the necessary health and safety advice and guidance is in place.

“Rail is one of the safest ways to travel and our inspectors continue to monitor the reality on the ground to ensure people have the confidence that they can travel safely.”

Total passenger revenue in Great Britain was £184 million in 2020-21 Q1. This equates to 6.9% of the £2.7 billion in 2019-20 Q1.

Anytime/Peak tickets accounted for 24.1% of all passenger revenue this quarter – the lowest share for such tickets in any quarter since the time series began in 2010-11.

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