Does the Train take the Strain?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Last week, ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) announced that there had been a surge in people using rural lines which gave TV journalists the opportunity to jump on trains and enjoy the countryside. On the railways overall last year, the growth was 6.9% and 5.5 million of us are expected to take a train this coming bank holiday weekend. How, then, do you marry this with the results of a survey that seems to show that extortionate rail fares (their words, not mine) are deterring people from taking short breaks in the UK?
This long weekend, ATOC says that an extra 1,700 trains will be running. That doesn’t sound like we are deterred from travelling. After all train companies aren’t going to put on trains just because they like it. If there’s no monetary gain, trains will stay put. And it can’t be because we are dashing off to work on Monday morning because it’s a bank holiday. So, the vast majority of these trips must be for leisure purposes; what you might call day trips or even short breaks. ATOC says that, if the weather is fine, (which it looks to be at least for England on Sunday and Monday) those trains that go to places like Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton and Weston-super-Mare will be busier. That makes sense. So how to understand this survey?
Firstly it is a survey of 2,000 people. Surveys can be reliable with this small number so that’s not necessarily the problem. But the survey had been commissioned by a car-sharing company with the almost unpronounceable name of BlablaCar. One question asked if people would go on more weekend breaks if the fares are lower. Of course, most people would answer yes to that. But you don’t know whether they are going on more short breaks already compared to a year ago. So forget the survey; it doesn’t help explain things.
The ATOC information on increased rail usage on rural lines is unfortunately limited to England so how lines are faring in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic isn’t available quite so easily. Whilst the TV crews headed for Cornwall (must have wanted to top up their tan) other less glamorous lines did well to like the Paddock Wood to Strood in Kent line which is up by just over a quarter. This is probably largely used by commuters unlike the Derby to Matlock line which will have holidaymakers and daytrippers. They have seen a growth of over 86%.
So the train is taking the strain of holidaymakers. Or at least for some of them.
By the way. I spoke to both ScotRail and Arriva Trains Wales and both tell me the over 55 year fares’ promotions are coming back during the Autumn. I’ll let you know when they start as soon as they are announced.

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