Fall in rail jour­neys comes af­ter decades of growth

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk News - Gwyn Topham

The num­ber of rail pas­sen­ger jour­neys in Bri­tain fell sharply in spring this year, af­ter two decades of vir­tu­ally con­stant growth since pri­vati­sa­tion. An­a­lysts and in­dus­try ob­servers said the fig­ures were con­cern­ing, while Labour said it raised se­ri­ous ques­tions about the vi­a­bil­ity of fran­chises.

Fig­ures from the Of­fice of Rail and Road show that the to­tal num­ber of jour­neys was 407.5m from April through to the end of June, a de­cline of 4.6% com­pared with the same pe­riod last year. Jour­neys by pas­sen­gers us­ing sea­son tick­ets fell by al­most 13% year on year, with many switch­ing to ad­vance pur­chase tick­ets.

Com­muter jour­neys in Lon­don and the south-east fell by 6.5%, in­clud­ing a drop of 8.8% on South West Trains (now South West­ern Rail­way), 5.3% on the trou­bled Govia Thames­link Rail­way (owner of South­ern rail), 7.4% on South­east­ern and 16.9% on Lon­don Over­ground.

The shadow trans­port sec­re­tary, Andy McDon­ald, said: “This sub­stan­tial fall in rail us­age re­flects pas­sen­ger frus­tra­tion at the cost and in­flex­i­bil­ity of the tick­et­ing sys­tem and di­rec­tion of the rail­way more broadly.”

Av­er­age fares have risen 27% since 2010, far faster than wages, while an­other 3.6% rise is due in Jan­uary.

McDon­ald added: “The de­cline in pa­tron­age … raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s rail fran­chis­ing pro­gramme which is based on ever-in­creas­ing rail pa­tron­age. I don’t be­lieve the cur­rent model can sus­tain a down­turn.” In­dus­try sources said it called into ques­tion the sums paid for re­cent fran­chises. One said: “At a time when firms have paid mas­sive pre­mi­ums, they have got to be wor­ried.”

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