Taking railway companies out of their comfort zones

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
Southern Rail

problems begin almost two years ago on Southern

I have written a lot about railways in the last couple of weeks becaus ethe belief is that passenger numbers are still growing and because any problems affect large numbers of us.

It looks as though passenger journeys were continuing to rise as it has done for much of the last ten years.

But has the peak been reached?

The release this week of the news that journeys by rail has dropped by 1.4% may not sound significant in itself but it does amount to about twenty four million journeys.

Look behind the figures however and the biggest drop is by season ticket holders – 9.2%. Other journeys such as those by day trippers, holidaymakers and those travelling outside peak hours has continued to rise.

panoramic view of the Lake District

the temporary clsure of the Lake District railway has resulted in major news coverage

That rail journeys are essential for tourist growth I have mentioned a number of times but will it from now on? When the figures are released for this year will the closure of the Lake District line for a few weeks be listed in the figures or will numbers be included from the rail replacement service? Will the figures conceal the fact that tourist journeys have dropped because people were put of travelling by the hassles they will encounter on that line.

Indeed, what research have the railways companies done on the impact of rail replacement journeys? Does having a longer journey by bus deter those from travelling? If it does 2017 figures could be lower because of the engineering impact of the Severn Tunnel and the extra forty minutes faced by rail travellers or the bus replacement services by individual stations?

Scot Rail train

ScotRail pulling into Tweedbank on the Borders Line. Trains making a big contribution to tourism development

When the Border line in Scotland opened linking Edinburgh with Galashiels and Tweedbank tourist numbers increased. It wasn’t only commuters who used the line and soon extra carriages were added to the service. When the line was cut at Dawlish in Devon by storms, tourist numbers to Devon and Cornwall declined and rose again when the line re-opened. Some lines like that from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Mid-Wales line might not exist without tourists.

The impact of the railways on tourism might now come to the minds of the chief executives at railway companies. If the overall numbers of journeys is dropping for one reason or another (I suspect this is due to the Govia mess in both southern and northern England as well as hefty price increases when compared to inflation) then the tourist, day tripper and holiday-maker will become ever more important as railway companies look to justify the bids they place to obtain the franchise.

the view on part of the Vale of Rheidol narrow guage railway

This is an opportunity for them to diversify or at least consider some of the offers they made in the past.

For years up until 1989, the then British Rail operated the narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol railway so why should existing franchisees not expand into other related businesses? Why is it that existing franchisees only see themselves as transporters of people?

Many years ago, railway companies promoted their destinations with posters that, today, command hundreds if not thousands of pounds. Why not expand that link with destinations and offer seven and fourteen day holidays? Why not expand links with heritage railways and market joint tickets? And, to renew an old suggestion of mine, why not have the occasional heritage train on the mainline to engender publicity and more tickets? Why not have recommended accommodation to help out local providers and a “packaged” price so holidaymakers know their costs? Why not compete with holiday rail companies by constructing rail tours?

If there continues to be a downturn, railway companies need to think outside the box in order to keep revenue flowing. At present, imagination seems lacking both in solving existing problems and looking to the future.

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