This article by Malcolm Griffiths of Bluespace Thinking, covers the fall in rail passenger journeys announced last week.
UK Rail passenger demand update – Bluespacethinking Ltd 14th June 2013
Figures released on Thursday by the Office of the Rail Regulator show a decline in usage across all rail sectors over the last 12 months.
Comparing January-March 2013 distance travelled with the same period the previous year London and the South travel declined by 1.8%, regional travel by 3.2% and long distance travel by 2.2%. Comparing the number of passenger journeys the declines were 0.6% London & South East, 3.2% regional and 2.6% for long distance.
The UK Government’s central strategy for economic growth, the £34- 38 billion investment in long distance rail infrastructure project HS2, is based on long distance demand (particularly the West Coast Mainline) increasing substantially over the next decade.
The latest publicly available economic evaluation for HS2 issued in August 2012 assumed that long distance rail trips would increase by about 2.4% per year over the next few years rather than decrease by 2.6%. The forecast then assumes a sudden further 30-40% increase in demand of long distance rail travel as a result of being able to save 30-60 minutes by travel on HS2 on some journeys. 70% of the increase in demand is expected to come from increased leisure trips as the economy improves and individuals have more disposable income.
This extra rail capacity and the ability to travel faster is expected to provide a dramatic improvement in the UK economy and close the North South divide in regional economies, presumably with the knock on effect of equalising wealth, education, health and life expectancy. With the completion of the line to Manchester and Leeds due in 2033 it is not clear when the Government expects this transformation to be complete.
Many academics and analysts (including Bluespace Thinking) consider that the casual relationship is the reverse of that assumed by Government, that if the in-equality in health, education, social circumstance and local infrastructure were addressed employment, productivity and economic activity would become more balanced providing a more even distribution of disposable income resulting in additional leisure travel. Whether this additional expenditure on leisure travel will be on train services between the UK’s major cities or people chose to fly to warmer holiday destinations will hopefully be a matter of personal choice.
With the three major parties all supporting HS2 investment as the central plank of UK economic growth there is little effective political debate on alternative approaches. If you are concerned about the economy, the health service, education or local infrastructure and think the politicians need to rethink please tell your MP.
Bluespace Thinking Ltd
The latest Office of the rail regulator statistics can be found at http://dataportal.orr.gov.uk