Doing the locomotion. For some reason, I always assumed that rail travel was in slow decline; a crumbling remnant of the industrial age. But then the numbers told me different. Apparently, almost 1.6 billion journeys were made by National Rail in the 2013-14 financial year, which is the most there has ever been, and a 152 per cent increase on the lows of the 1980s. This is still a small proportion of all the journeys taken each year, particularly when compared to cars. Yet, unlike the sputtering old automobile, train travel is on the rise.
Why so? I’d say it’s mostly down to Michael Portillo and all those train trips he keeps making. But there are other causes too. Some are to do with the measurements used: as of 1994/95, the Department began counting journeys involving more than one train as separate journeys. Some of them are to do with wider developments: economic growth and immigration will have ushered more of us on to railway platforms. The Association of Train Operating Companies suggests that, above all these reasons, franchising is what’s turned the trains around. But they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Londonism. It’s worth noting that this growth hasn’t been even. As with most statistics, there’s a heavy lean towards London. Of the journeys made in 2012-13, 62 per cent either started or finished in the nation’s capital. It is home to eight of the top ten busiest stations. And that’s before we even consider the Underground network. I’ve included its figures on the graph at the top of this post, simply to demonstrate how it’s keeping pace with National Rail. London is railway central.
The neglected extremities. So, what of the other parts of Britain? Their numbers are nothing against London’s. About seven per cent of journeys begin or end in Scotland. For Wales it’s only two per cent.
Where are we headed? These may seem like moot statistics – trainspotting for the trainspotters – but they’re not really. Train travel is likely to be one of the leitmotifs of this Parliament. We already have HS2, which the SNP are petitioning to have extended to Edinburgh and Glasgow. And then there’s the prospect of HS3 and the reopening of old routes across the country. Is all this necessary and desirable? Is the demand already there or will it follow with the trains? The answers are too much for one To The Point post. I shall return to this topic in future.