Rail’s prospects in the North boosted by strong leisure market

The large leisure market that uses both Northern and TransPennine Express services means that railways in northern England are “well-placed” to lead on the region’s post-pandemic recovery, according to industry leaders.

At a Transport for the North Board meeting on March 25, members were also told that discussions are being held between local tourism authorities, Network Rail and the operators, regarding the messaging required to get the public back on trains.

Non-rail users, as well as rail users, have been surveyed ahead of the end of lockdown restrictions, to help identify what will be needed to make train travel attractive again.

TfN Strategic Rail Director David Hoggarth said passenger confidence will be the key for any successful return, and that a car-led recovery in northern England would not help the region’s decarbonisation ambitions.

He also confirmed that demand for rail in the region remains at around 20% of pre-COVID levels, and that only around two-thirds of the pre-pandemic service level is operating. The focus remains on peak-time timetables to ensure key workers and schoolchildren can travel.

Nevertheless, Hoggarth said it’s all about being prepared: “Many people haven’t travelled for a while and we need to help rebuild confidence. We also need to keep the reliability we now have.

“Fortunately, we have a mixed rail market and a strong leisure market. There will be opportunities to build around things like staycations, but in a COVID-safe way. We need to rise to the challenge and build in flexibility, so we can do this in an agile way.”

At the same meeting, NR told TfN members that the industry would “work as one” to attract people back to rail. But it said it was waiting for a steer from the Department for Transport and Rail Delivery Group over the timing of the messaging.

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