Passengers disembarking from a busy train

UK rail passenger numbers on a record post-Covid high

Passenger numbers are bouncing back, says the industry Network Rail

Passenger numbers on Britain’s railways have approached and exceeded levels seen before the pandemic. Despite significantly changed passenger behaviour, with much less peak hours commuting, the railways are proving as busy as ever. Reported UK government figures say that patronage averaged over 98 per cent daily in April, with 101-106 per cent for 14 days of the month.

The Department for Transport (DfT) published its post-Covid national rail passenger figures on Wednesday 10 May, showing a record post Covid high daily average of 98.3 per cent for the month of April. Of the 30 days in April, 14 days registered 101 per cent to 106 per cent, and only four days saw less than 90 per cent (88 per cent) on the first four days of the month. This represents a significant recovery, and ahead of expectations. The consensus is that passengers are using the railway in a modified way, with demand more evenly spread over the hours of the day and the days of the week.

Regularly surpassing 100 per cent

The Railway Industry Association, which has analysed the official government figures, says the return to rail has clearly gathered significant pace in recent months. “According to DfT data we are now seeing average daily passengers levels on the UK rail network of over 98 per cent of pre Covid levels, in just 14 months since pandemic restrictions started to be lifted”, said Darren Caplan, their chief executive. “This is despite widespread industrial action and poor service levels on some routes in recent months, and it should be noted is in comparison with 2019-20 levels, the second highest year of UK passenger numbers on record.”

General view of the concourse at Liverpool Street station in London, busy with passengers
The concourse at Liverpool Street station in London is now busier than before at weekends as leisure travel rises

The RIA says it’s encouraged by these numbers, which are regularly now surpassing 100 per cent and are being registered on all days of the week, including weekends. However, a decline in peak hour travel has hit the bottom line, says Caplan. “Revenues are now above 90 per cent of pre Covid levels, it is clear that rail travel – whilst not back to where it was pre Covid – is clearly heading in the right direction.”

Reminder to the government

Reform of the management of Britain’s railways would further hasten the recovery of the sector, concludes the Rail Industry Association. The UK government has signalled reform in several reports, and made moves towards replacing the infrastructure agency Network Rail with a wider-ranging body, which will bring track and train under one administration. However, so far, progress has stalled, with just the headquarters location of the Midlands city of Derby announced, but no firm dates for hand over yet agreed.

“Establishing Great British Railways as soon as possible should help to the industry to break above that 100 per cent revenue level in a reasonable timeframe”, concludes Caplan. “All of this is a positive reminder to the government and the treasury that railway capacity in the UK needs to grow and be funded – both the classic network and major projects like HS2 – now and in the future, if we are to deliver the connectivity, levelling-up [of the economy to match the booming London and South East], decarbonisation and economic growth agenda of the Government in the months and years ahead.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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