The post-pandemic recovery has ignited a growing enthusiasm for train travel, driven by both work and leisure purposes, according to rail industry research that also warns that the rail sector must adapt to shifting travel patterns to capitalize on this trend.
Although government subsidies exceeded double the revenue generated from passengers during the 2021/22 fiscal year, there has been a notable increase in passenger numbers and to some extent, revenues over the past year. The latest findings suggest that this upward trajectory will continue, with commuters and business travellers anticipating more rail journeys over the next three months.
This resurgence has primarily been led by leisure travellers, leaving a gap in commuting created by increased working from home.
The research underscores the enduring allure of rail travel, but only if the industry can revamp its services to better meet customer expectations. The enduring appeal of train travel lies in its reputation as an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, with 82% of current customers considering eco-friendliness as ‘very’ or ‘fairly important.’
Approximately 37% of current customers plan to use the railway more frequently in the coming three months, with only 9% intending to reduce their train journeys. This anticipated surge in rail usage is particularly pronounced among current commuter and business customers. A significant portion of current commuter passengers anticipates increasing their reliance on rail over the next three months, partly due to evolving attitudes toward office work as employers adopt more flexible approaches.
However, current rail customers and those opting for alternative modes of transportation express concerns about the impact of prolonged rail strikes on their travel choices over the next three months.
Rail Delivery Group Chief Executive Jacqueline Starr said: “The rail industry was hit hard by the pandemic but train companies are responding to the evolving travel needs of existing customers and potential new ones. People clearly recognise that rail is the green transport choice for the future. The industry is innovating and working with our partners to make it the obvious travel option in a society transformed by covid.
“We can see that despite the challenges the industry is facing, there is potential for growth, but only if we can bring forward long overdue changes to ways of working that allow us to respond to the needs of our customers, providing more reliable and regular weekend services for leisure travelers.”
Meanwhile, innovation around ticketing already underway in some parts of the industry, the research suggests, could reap rewards by increasing journey numbers. Special offers and more flexible tickets were identified by around two-thirds of people as measures that would increase their use of rail.
As part of its post-pandemic strategy, the industry has expanded the use of the Pay As You Go arrangements deployed by city-based transport services, such as the London Underground. Individual companies are also innovating: for example, Southern offers discounted fares on Mondays and Fridays, while South Western Railway has developed a loyalty scheme.
The research was carried out by BVA BDRC, which questioned around 3,000 rail customers and 600 people who currently do not use the railway on behalf of Rail Delivery Group.