Rail passenger numbers could almost double by 2050, says RIA report

 Image by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

New research by consultancy Steer for the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has found rail passenger numbers could almost double by 2050.

The report found rail passenger volumes could grow between at least 37% and nearly 100% up to 2050 - compared with the pre-pandemic peak - equating to between 1.6% and 3.0% average growth per annum.

The report said “under any scenario” rail demand in the UK will grow beyond today’s network, growth that government policy, rail services and operators will need to accommodate.

The Steer analysis sets out the first scenarios for future passenger rail growth to be published since the pandemic and concludes that even under the most pessimistic scenarios, rail demand in the UK is likely to show a steady and continuing upturn. 

Demand drivers include population and economic growth but also policy intervention scenarios which could further stimulate long-term passenger rail growth and – critically – increase revenues. 

Earlier this month the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated the UK population will rise by 6.6 million or 10% to 73.7 million in the next 15 years to mid-2036 – this will have significant implications for infrastructure and transport. 

This upwards revision to the ONS projections is not included in the above forecasts, underlining the robustness of the continued growth assumptions in the Steer report.

Darren Caplan, Railway Industry Association chief executive, said: “This landmark report sets out a range of scenarios for future rail passenger growth, yet under all of them passenger numbers grow, which will have clear impacts on capacity in the future.

“Under the lowest growth scenario, even if the UK government does nothing and lets the industry drift along as it is rail passenger numbers still grow by a third in the 25 years to 2050. 

“Alternatively, if a future government adopts a bold and ambitious strategy to improve the customer offer and drive some behavioural change, passenger numbers could double by 2050, dramatically increasing revenues. 

“Freight is also likely to grow in this time, with the Government itself setting a 75% growth target over the next 25 years.

“So there is clearly a huge opportunity to expand rail travel, benefiting the UK’s economy and its connectivity, as well as bringing social and decarbonisation benefits. 

“To achieve this, we need to see rail reform and a long-term rail strategy as soon as possible, including a plan for increased north-south capacity, which all rail experts agree will not be delivered under current plans.”

Click here to read the full report. 


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