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Rail journeys at lowest numbers since Victorian era

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The number of rail journeys in the UK dropped by more than 400 million between April and June (2020-21 Q1) when compared to the same time last year due to the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns, the Office of Rail and Road has said.

The estimate shows that the number of rail journeys undertaken during the period was the lowest since the Victorian era in the UK.

Nationally, 35 million journeys are estimated to have been made during the quarter.

More journeys 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 per cent of journeys made in the same quarter a year earlier; this was the greatest fall for any operator.

Recent estimates published by the Department for Transport show that current national rail use is around 32 per cent 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,” he continued. “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 £184m in 2020-21 Q1 which equates to 6.9 per cent of the £2.7bn raised in 2019-20 Q1.

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

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, warned that “urgent radical steps” are required to support public transport: “There has been welcome Government support for the rail industry but more needs to be done, especially as some services such as Grand Central and Hull Trains are teetering on the brink and the railway supply chain is now also shedding jobs.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “The daily commute may have been altered forever, so it’s now more important than ever that people use our railways for leisure activities instead of getting into cars.”

“Electric rail is cleaner and safer for our environment and has many health advantages as well as helping to tackle climate change. It’s vital that Government encourages people to use rail travel in safe and responsible ways.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The significant decline in passenger numbers reflects people acting on Government guidance early in the pandemic to travel only if essential, helping tackle the virus and ensure space was preserved for key workers.”

“We took immediate action and have invested billions to maintain the services people rely on, protecting frontline jobs and ensuring railways stand ready to support our national recovery.”

In August it was announced that the Government would fund a £1.8m project looking at how cutting-edge technology such as automated monitoring systems could boost the UK’s railways during this period of extreme loss in revenue. 

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