After the latest figures from Transport for the North (TFN) was released, Quadrant Transport looks at how the north has recovered from the pandemic, compared to the rest of the country.
The latest figures on rail use obtained by Transport for the North, show that, despite infrastructure constraints and reduced levels of service, the North of England has consistently led the return to the rail in the second half of 2021.
The data provided to TfN’s Rail North Committee by the two main rail operators in the North of England – Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) – confirm that the leisure sector led the charge with weekends often at pre-Covid levels of travel, or sometimes above.
Figures released by DfT highlighted that national rail use just before Christmas was around 60% of pre-covid levels. This is significantly lower than the revenue seen in the North, which has seen revenue at 95% pre-Covid levels and TPE 89%.
Will more passengers mean more investment?
With the North leading the rail recovery, the business case for further development within the region has been strengthened. The hope for the industry, and people living in the north, is that funding announced in the IRP will be extended to deliver a better railway for the people as demand has increased faster than any other part of the country.
Responding to these findings, Quadrant Transport heard from Rail North Committee chair, Cllr Liam Robinson. He said: “These figures obtained by TfN show the North is leading the charge on the rail return, and the Government needs to recognise that now is the time to invest.”
With a bounce-back that is around 10% stronger than other parts of the country, Liam added: “The North shouldn’t now be facing the kind of resource cuts that the Government is intimating. Now is the time to support the rail sector in the North.
We need more funding for the North of England’s railway – not less. If you want to level up or tackle the climate emergency, it is only made harder if you are cutting investment in the rail network
During the summer (period 5) both Northern and TPE began to overtake the national average figure with the North’s leisure sector supporting a sustained recovery through autumn (period 6-8).
Fears that reduced timetables will become the new norm
With Omicron causing fresh pressures for the rail sector, many operators are running on a reduced timetable to ensure reliability remains as high as possible. There is a real concern, however, that this new timetable may be seen by the DfT as a new baseline for operating at a lower cost and having fewer trains on the network.
If this were to happen then the North could see less investment in the region and increasing passenger revenues could start reducing as we emerge from the pandemic. Liam told Quadrant Transport: “We want TfN to influence what new timetables will look like and to be equal partners in determining what services will look like in the future. This will be a measure of if this Government is serious about devolution in the North.”
How is TfN making the business case heard?
Transport for the North’s Strategic Rail programme plays a key role in shaping and informing the fulfilment of rail-related issues within the Strategic Transport Plan.
It ensures that the synergies between Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 Phase 2b, and the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade, through the Integrated Rail Programme, are fully optimised with the wider classic rail network.
In operational terms, the Strategic Rail programme partners with the Department for Transport in overseeing and managing the region’s biggest rail operators – Northern Trains Limited and TransPennine Express. This is done through the Rail North Partnership, informed by the advice and guidance of the Rail North Committee.