Covid outbreak sees rail travel fall to 19th-century levels

ScotRail had the biggest drop in journeys of any UK operator.

Covid outbreak sees rail travel fall to 19th-century levels

Demand for rail travel sank to mid-19th century levels following the coronavirus outbreak, new figures show.

There were around one million journeys made on ScotRail trains when the country was in lockdown between April and June.

This represented only 4.3% of journeys made during the same period last year and the biggest drop of any UK operator.

The figures released by the Office of Rail and Road estimated that more than 400m fewer journeys were made throughout the UK during this quarter.

A total of 35m journeys were made throughout the UK as government guidance told people to stay at home when possible.

Passenger revenue between April and June was £184m, just 6.9% of the £2.7bn in the same period last year.

Department for Transport (DfT) figures show demand has since returned to around 38% of normal UK levels.

ScotRail, whose services remain at around 75% of an average year, released new guidelines in May on face coverings and avoiding busier times when possible.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “These unprecedented times have had a huge impact on every sector, and the railway is no different. 

“People have been listening to and following the government advice, and as a result we’ve seen fewer people choosing to travel.”  

ORR director of railway planning and performance Graham Richards said: “This unprecedented fall in passenger numbers, the largest on record to levels last seen in the mid-19th 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.”

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “With the majority of company bosses planning to keep some home-working beyond the pandemic, train companies are keen to work with Government to introduce flexible season tickets that will incentivise more people safely back on to trains.

“Fares reform is a crucial component of wider industry proposals to enable train operators to better respond to the rapidly evolving needs of their local customers.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, warned that “urgent radical steps” are required to support public transport.

He said: “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.”

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