by ORR

UK passenger travel doubles since rail privatisation – but what is the cause?

Published: 30th January 2016

Rail journeys across Britain doubled in 20 years

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has announced that rail journeys made in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) have doubled in the last twenty years. The ORR collates official statistics for the rail industry and offers a good insight into the Industry and because the statistics are broken down into 11 geographical regions, forward planning can be better informed.

Train travel increased by 4.5% in 2014-15 over the previous 12 months reaching 1.4billion journeys – over twice the 1995-96 statistic of 589.5million journeys.

The statistics recorded are journeys within each of 11 defined geographical areas and between them in the last year, every area in Britain saw an annual journey increase. The largest percentage increase was recorded in Scotland at 8.7% (691,000 journeys) helped by Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games.

Travel within London rose by 6% or 27.9million journeys to 492.2million no doubt boosted by Transport for London’s increased and more reliable services.

London stations remain busiest in Britain

The ORR has also released individual station usage statistics which yet again show that London stations remain the most heavily used in Britain – with one exception, Birmingham New Street. London Waterloo retained its busiest station in the UK title with an amazing near-on 100 million passenger entries and exits, an increase of 1% or 700,000 passengers. London Bridge lost some passengers but this was due to the ongoing Thameslink project and the consequential reduction in that station’s capacity.

The estimates of station usage across Britain between April 2014 – March 2015 suggests that the number of entries and exits at stations across Britain increased by over 119million or up by 4.5% over the previous year.

Demonstrating how revised train services can alter travel patterns and subsequent statistics, a new station has entered the top ten most used list. This is Stratford (London) Station which recorded over 30 million passenger entries and exits up by a massive 17.4%. This is due to the expansion of the London Overground network and the provision of extra carriages.

And here is the Top 10…………………

Station 14-15 entries & exits 13-14 entries & exits % change GB rank

Waterloo 99,201,604 98,442,742 0.8% 1

Victoria 85,337,996 81,356,330 4.9% 2


Street 63,631,246 63,004,002 1.0% 3

London Bridge 49,517,854 56,442,044 -12.3% 4

Charing Cross 42,978,890 40,170,074 7.0% 6

Euston 42,952,298 41,911,706 2.5% 5

Paddington 35,724,684 35,093,628 1.8% 7


New Street 35,312,788 34,748,984 1.6% 8

King's Cross 31,346,862 29,833,456 5.1% 9

Stratford 30,974,204 26,377,506 17.4% 12

And in Scotland…

Glasgow Central remains the busiest station in Scotland which recorded an increase of 7% in passenger entries and exits totaling just under 29 million passengers, up by 1.8million. This was just over Scotland’s overall increase which averaged 6% or 10 million station entries and exits. Glasgow Central was used as an interchange station by almost 3.5million passengers, or 10,000 a day.

Scotland’s top 5 stations…

Station 2014-15 entries & exits 2013-14 entries & exits % change GB rank 14-15


Central 28,964,760 27,152,694 7% 11

Edinburgh 21,106,540 20,012,302 5% 19


Queen Street 16,959,230 15,760,558 8% 25


Gilmour Street 4,090,566 3,954,558 3% 115

Aberdeen 3,742,646 3,600,268 4% 124

And in Wales

Cardiff Central recorded over 11 million passenger entries and exits up by 2% or nearly 200,000 movements which accounted for about 30% of Wales’ increase in rail travel. Passenger entries and exits at Welsh stations increased by over 660,000 or 1% over the previous year. Cardiff Central also topped the table for passengers changing trains with 1.7million passengers changing trains there.

Wales’ top 5 stations…

Station 14-15 entries & exits 13-14 entries & exits % change GB rank 14-15 GB rank 13-14

Cardiff Central 11,939,360 11,739,630 2% 31 31


Queen Street 2,523,314 2,462,700 2% 221 198


(Gwent) 2,388,504 2,291,044 4% 236 223

Swansea 2,165,704 2,116,490 -9% 265 236

Bridgend 1,518,220 1,669,880 12% 371 340

Why have passenger numbers doubled in the last 20 years?

The Department for Transport consistently suggest that rail privatisation brings innovation and better marketing so it is their policy which has increased ridership.

On the other hand, analysis by various technical organisations suggests this may not be the complete truth! More and more people are choosing to live in larger towns and cities. Urban traffic congestion and lack of parking combined with the cost of insurance and other car ownership costs have brought a reduction in car use in these places. Younger people are not taking to driving in the quantities seen in previous generations and are choosing to use public transport.

Rail travel has been made more attractive with more services and stations offering easier travel options bringing more ridership. Investment has been better because under British Rail, investment was largely decided on an annual basis when major projects can take a decade or more, such as Thameslink and Crossrail.

In the last 20 years, Government funding has been in five year periods allowing a longer term investment plan to be agreed. Even if the politicians make the rail industry sign up to Agreements that are impossible to deliver!

So it can be argued that changing social attitudes to the environment and living arrangements combined with the five-year funding arrangements has combined to bring a boom in rail travel. Road usage has only increased by about 20% in the same period.

Also the ease of buying rail tickets on-line has made cheap rail travel easier for those with internet access.

And this year’s numbers…

The storm damage which has severed the West Coast Main Line between Carlisle and Glasgow, the South Eastern main line between Dover and Folkestone and the Tyne Valley route between Carlisle and Newcastle will seriously reduce passenger numbers.

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