by Phil Marsh

Budget Airline issues cheeky challenge to UK rail

Published: 25th April 2014

Rail ridership continues to expand across the UK as complaints fall

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has just released the latest usage statistics for UK railways and they say the same old story, the total number of rail passenger journeys across England, Scotland and Wales increased again in the last year. They rose by 3.3% in that period reaching 1.27bn, over twice the amount of journeys made in 1995-96.

The ORR has also produced a useful map showing regional variations in the overall growth in addition to inter-regional traffic growth. They have also produced copious statistics on rail passenger numbers since the nadir of the railways in the mid 1980s which demonstrate how the rail network survived privatisation and still managed to grow!

The ORR also monitors complaints made by rail users and uses a National Passenger Survey to track satisfaction (or otherwise) levels and again, these bring strong evidence that the claims Flybe make in their advert in the national press was very wide of the mark.

They claim that in Victorian times the British rail network was the envy of the world, but this is 2014. They then claim that you take too long (but don’t quantify exactly what) and getting a seat is a lottery, and the toilets are just…….

Flights and routes subject to availability and subject to change

They also claim that their passengers are sitting down with a coffee soaring above the delays at 20,000 feet and that it takes an average of 55 minutes to get wherever you want to go flying between the 35 regional airports they use. However the small print says that subject to availability and subject to change so there is no guarantee of services operating on a long term basis.

How does this compare with our railways?

Well, the franchising system does have its flaws as often reported on this website but the contractual web does protect routes, services and timetables which include calling points, first and last trains and journey times. And travelling by rail is from town to town and not between a pair of out of town airports.

Buying tickets can be via the internet on for example or at many stations or ticket vending machines. Not quite as easy for plane tickets… And we haven’t started to compare check-in times at stations and airports or the many hidden add-ons which ratchet up the actual fare paid for flights.

Childs play and no fly zones?

And railways offer child fares up to 15 years old which seem to be too difficult for those that choose to fly.

So you can be certain that stations and train services are secure and if ridership falls, services will not suffer. If air routes’ patronage drops, the flights are withdrawn. For example, following the higher speeds, more frequent services and reduced travel times in the last few years, UK domestic flights have been dramatically reduced. And luggage allowances are far higher by rail but car park charges at airports, far more expensive than rail.

Long view on short haul

Taking a longer view, Eurostar services have practically destroyed air competition between London, Brussels and Paris almost bringing a no-fly zone. Market research demonstrates that rail journeys of around three hours or less will attract the overwhelming majority of passengers and air sweeps up a tiny minority.

Passengers would rather travel on a three our train trip (with refreshments) than have a 55 minute flight punctuated by long check-in times and queues from out of town airports.


One thing that consistently annoys rail staff is that why passengers accept delays of hours when flying ‘as one of those things’ when a train is 15 minutes late it is unacceptable. Yes, delayed trains are annoying but it’s a rare thing that delays trains for hours which is why every incident hits the news headlines.

The ORR Complaints’ statistics demonstrate that the Flybe advert is plain misleading. Despite the doubling of passengers carried on the UK railways, complaints have dropped by a factor of just under four while overall satisfaction levels have risen to 84%.

Lets get dirty

It is a well established fact that planes cause huge amounts of pollution, you only have to look at the sky to see vapour trails. They also cause continuous massive noise pollution around huge swathes of urban areas such as Heathrow.

Flybe say that the even give their passengers a little weather update as they look down on teeming platforms. But obviously when the fog comes down, or a it is a bit windy, then Flybe will obviously be transferring their passengers to rail which more often than not will continue to offer a service.

ORR’s Passenger statistics

Financial year to Total passenger journeys

1987-88 | 798.4

1988-89 | 822.0

1989-90 | 812.0

1990-91 | 809.6

1991-92 | 791.8

1992-93 | 769.7

1993-94 | 740.1

1994-95 | 735.1

1995-96 | 761.2

1996-97 | 801.4

1997-98 | 845.7

1998-99 | 891.9

1999-00 | 931.0

2000-01 | 956.6

2001-02 | 959.6

2002-03 | 975.5

2003-04 | 1011.7

2004-05 | 1039.5

2005-06 | 1076.5

2006-07 | 1145.0

2007-08 | 1218.1

2008-09 | 1266.5

2009-10 | 1257.9

2010-11 | 1353.8

2011-12 | 1460.0

2012-13 | 1501.7

ORR’s latest National Passenger Survey figures show that:

The total number of journeys in 2012-13 has increased by 3.3% to 1.27 billion. Journeys between different regions increased by 2.7% to 421.2 million, largely driven by the 2.8% increase in journeys to/from London.

The number of journeys wholly within regions increased by 3.6% to 847.8 million due to increases of 6.3% (an additional 25.6 million journeys) in London, 2.9% (2.3 million) in Scotland, 4.2% (1.2 million) in East of England and 3.1% (676,000) in the South West.

The total number of journeys for Scotland was up 2.9% to 89.6 million. Over 90% of journeys were within Scotland with Lothian, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire seeing the largest growth rates.

Journeys within Wales increased by 1.0% since 2011-12 to 19.2 million. The largest increase of 7.8% occurring on services to/from Merthyr Tydfil, continuing the increase demand for the town which has grown by over 60% in the past five years.

Complaints rate

ORR measures the complaint rate every quarter and is expressed as a number of complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys made.

Financial year | Complaints rate | NPS overall satisfaction

2002-03 | 128 | 73

2003-04 | 79 | 73

2004-05 | 71 | 75

2005-06 | 74 | 79

2006-07 | 68 | 80

2007-08 | 57 | 80

2008-09 | 56 | 82

2009-10 | 45 | 83

2010-11 | 42 | 84

2011-12 | 38 | 84

2012-13 | 34 | 84

So to sum up, rail ridership is up, while complaints have fallen and rail investment is at record levels.

Railair links

And lets not forget that major airports are well served by rail, such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Southampton, Manchester and Stansted to name but a few. Where would Flybe be without these links!

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