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Community rail supporting rail passenger numbers to bounce back

Passenger journeys on railway lines with community rail partnerships have recovered faster than the average across Britain’s rail network since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, figures show.

During April to December 2022, the number of journeys on a sample of lines with community rail partnerships was consistently above 80% of pre-COVID levels, peaking at a high of 88% during the first quarter of 2022-23, according to the latest figures from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). At the end of December, passenger journeys made on community rail partnership lines stood at 82% of pre-COVID (2019-20) levels, compared to 79% across the network.

This new data follows Community Rail Network’s 2019 analysis showing lines with community rail partnerships consistently performed better in terms of passenger growth than lines without over a 10 year period pre-pandemic.

Community rail has been shown to add value to communities and enhance sustainable mobility in a myriad of ways, reducing traffic and pollution, and helping to tackle the climate crisis, while delivering social value and increasing access to opportunity. Activities range from those increasing accessibility and breaking down travel barriers; engaging schools and colleges to build travel skills and confidence; advising transport partners on modal integration; running community events and volunteering to bring people together; and promoting awareness and positivity about sustainable travel and tourism by rail. See Community Rail Network’s report on Modal Shift.

The above graph compares the percentage recovery of pre-COVID passenger journeys by each quarter from beginning of April 2020 (approximately the onset of COVID) to the end of December 2022. It compares a sample of 46 community rail lines against the overall number of passenger journeys made, both against the equivalent quarterly figure from 2019-20.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “We’re really pleased that passenger numbers on railway lines with community rail partnerships have been bouncing back faster on average, nearing pre-pandemic levels, and this continues a longer-term trend. Community rail is a grassroots movement playing a crucial role building awareness and confidence towards rail and breaking down travel barriers, as well as advising rail partners on local needs, and bringing people together.

“We’ve seen an impressive array of initiatives across Britain in recent years, bolstering community cohesion and resilience through the pandemic, supporting passengers to return to rail, and engaging wider groups to promote and enable increased rail travel, especially for greener leisure journeys. The community rail movement is more determined than ever in its endeavours to connect communities and railways, as we look to tackle the climate and cost of living crises, and build a shift towards a green and inclusive transport future, with rail at its centre.”

Data for the sample of community rail lines is provided to Community Rail Network by Rail Delivery Group (RDG), and represents a significant percentage (approx. 40%) of all community rail lines across Britain. It includes lines within regions including Northern, Great Western, Greater Anglia, East Midlands, and London North Western. This sample is compared against the data released quarterly by the ORR, which includes data from all train operators and figures collated from the Latest Earnings Networked Nationally Over Night (LENNON) and Computer Analysis of Passenger Revenue Information (CAPRI) ticketing and revenue databases.