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Latest figures show the UK rail sector was booming before pandemic losses

The UK’s railway sector was quickly growing quickly and financially thriving prior to the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, a report commissioned by the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has found.

According to researchers Oxford Economics, UK rail was helping to drive growth, investment and jobs right across the UK in 2019, the last year for which full data is available.

With the Government now looking for sectors that can help the country economically recover from the pandemic, the report argues that the rail sector could be one of the leaders of this effort.

Oxford Economics found that in 2019, the rail industry supported £43bn in economic growth compared to £36.4bn in 2016; it employed 710,000 people, compared to 600,000 in 2016; it raised £14bn in tax revenue annually, compared to £11bn in 2016; and for every £1 spent in rail, £2.50 of income was generated in the wider economy, compared to £2.20 in 2016.

But while the report demonstrates a booming rail sector based on 2019 data, by October 2020, the number of train journeys in the UK had dropped by more than 400 million to figures not seen since the Victorian era.

Last month, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said he believed that demand for train travel will return to pre-pandemic levels despite currently lagging behind car use, although he added that train stations may see their peaks at different times from in 2019 and before.

The report also looks at future scenarios for rail investment, based on National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) research. It suggests that if rail investment is increased by 50 per cent, the rail sector would contribute to the economy an additional £5.6bn per year between 2025 and 2029, with an extra 104,000 individuals employed in the industry as a result.

Darren Caplan, RIA chief executive, said: “This new research by Oxford Economics reveals that, pre-pandemic, the railway industry was growing, and supporting even more jobs and gross value added (GVA) than just a few years earlier.

“In 2016, every pound spent in rail generated £2.20 of spending in the wider economy, yet by 2019 this had risen to £2.50. This shows that rail is not just an important sector in its own right, but is also crucial for UK plc more widely, its economy and connectivity.

“As the Government seeks to build back better - with a growing economy, which levels up, is green, and which helps promote Global Britain - it should look no further than the UK railway industry.

“This report by Oxford Economics shows a burgeoning rail sector before the pandemic and how rail can provide more economic growth in the future. As passengers now return to the network we should be optimistic about rail’s ability to help with the recovery.”

Recent tests by Network Rail found no traces of the Covid-19 virus at four of the country’s largest railway stations.

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