The new age of the train

A historic boom on the railways – but can network take the strain?

Britain is witnessing the dawn of a new era of rail travel as an unprecedented demand for environmentally friendly transport encourages people to take more train journeys than at any time since the Second World War.

Figures released yesterday revealed that the number of miles travelled on the rail network reached a record-breaking peacetime high of 30.1 billion during 2007, capping a huge rise in popularity in which passenger numbers have increased every year for the past 13 years.

The rise in passenger miles, documented by the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), indicates a boom in demand for rail transport at a time when the threat of climate change is encouraging more people to find greener ways of moving around.

George Muir, director general of Atoc, described the resurgence of train use as astonishing. "We knew that we were growing but it was only when we looked at the graph that we realised how sudden that growth was," he said. "If you take out the war years, for much of the past 80 years passenger miles have hovered around the 20 billion mark, but within the past 10 years it has grown dramatically."

The only time that train passenger miles – calculated as the number of journeys taken multiplied by the distance travelled – has been higher was during the Second World War when the rail network was twice the size it is now and large numbers of troops were being transported around the country. The previous peacetime record was set in 1946 – when vast numbers of soldiers were being demobilised.

Atoc's figures represent one of the most detailed attempts to gauge the popularity of Britain's railways over the past 170 years and show how demand for rail travel has reached unprecedented levels over the past decade since privatisation. Last year the network handled 1.21 billion rail journeys, the equivalent of 20 journeys for every citizen and a 7 per cent rise on 2006. Traffic on the railways, meanwhile, has increased by 67.6 per cent since 1994 when just 17.9 billion passenger miles were travelled.

Tim Leunig, a historian from the London School of Economics who helped compile the figures, said current trends meant passenger miles were likely to continue breaking records "time and time and time again" as demand increases. A White Paper last year estimated that Britain would need to double its rail capacity by 2030 to meet demand.

Passenger groups voiced concerns that the cost of expanding the overstretched rail network will be paid for by yet more above-inflation ticket price rises. The most recent, which came into effect in January, saw some rail operators put up the cost of fares on some routes up by as much as 15 per cent.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said: "We need a fares policy that encourages rail and bus use, and that means cheaper tickets, not more expensive ones. If just 5 per cent of people travelling by car turn to rail it would require a 50 per cent increase in rail capacity, so the task is huge and it needs dramatic action."

Environmental groups also warned that rising ticket prices could remove the incentive to travel by train at a time when car use and short-haul flights are also at record highs. "We're delighted that the demand for rail travel is increasing and that more and more people are choosing to use this greener form of transport but we do have concerns about the rising costs of using our railways," said Cat Hobbs from the Campaign for Better Transport.

"We're also not convinced that the Government has adequate long-term plans to expand and fund a railway network that will meet future demand."

Concern was also expressed yesterday that, as demand for rail travel grows, the already chronic overcrowding on some sections of the network will only get worse. Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, the independent national rail consumer watchdog, said: "These figures graphically underline the urgent need for more and longer trains. Passengers left standing on a crowded peak service will find this announcement hard to believe."

A Department for Transport spokesperson rejected any suggestion that the Government would fail to meet future demand. "We are ahead of the curve and planning for growth," she said.

"On top of the opening of the UK's first high-speed line and securing funding for Crossrail last year we announced £10bn investment focused on increasing capacity.

"We are planning a rail network which can carry 180 million more passengers over the next six years, growth of 22 per cent."

Click here to have your say

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits