Greater Anglia lost nearly 80% of passengers during Covid pandemic

Trains at Liverpool Street

Greater Anglia passenger numbers fell by nearly 80% during the pandemic. - Credit: Paul Geater

Rail passenger numbers fell to their lowest figure since records started in 1878 during the 2020-21 financial year, according to new figures from the official government regulator.

Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show the number of passengers fell to 22.3% across the network - a figure almost exactly mirrored by Greater Anglia which carried 22.4% of its 2019-20 passenger numbers.

The drop in passenger miles was even greater - across the country only 18.7% of the previous year's miles were travelled while on the Greater Anglia network the figure was 19.6%. That means more passengers were taking shorter journeys than the previous year - the long-distance leisure and business trips took a larger hit than the shorter commuter journeys.

During the first lockdown, the number of passengers using trains fell to less than 5% of the previous year's figure both nationally and regionally.

Numbers did pick up during the summer of 2020 although they fell back again during the second lockdown this year.

Empty train

Trains ran almost empty during the first lockdown. Greater Anglia conductor Nathan Long took this picture on an Intercity train from Norwich to London which had only three passengers for most of the journey. - Credit: Nathan Long/Greater Anglia

While passenger numbers fell dramatically, the number of trains operated stayed much higher as the government subsidised operators to keep services running for people making essential journeys. Nationally 75.5% of passenger train kilometres were run - in Greater Anglia the figure was 86%.

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The pandemic had a devastating effect on rail revenue - nationally ticket sales went down from £10.4bn to £1.9bn - a fall of 81.7%. There are no figures for the revenue hit for individual companies - but it will have been of a similar proportion.

London Liverpool Street

London's Liverpool Street station was uncharacteristically quiet for much of the pandemic. - Credit: Network Rail

A spokeswoman for Greater Anglia said: “Our customers have followed Government guidance throughout the pandemic, which has reflected Covid restrictions in place nationally and locally.

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"We are working along with the rest of the rail industry and the Government to welcome passengers back to the railway as restrictions are lifted through each stage of the roadmap. At the moment Government advice is still to work from home wherever possible.

“Passenger numbers are currently at about 46& of pre Covid levels – but in the first lockdown, when Government advice was to stay at home, they dropped to 5%.

“Our reduced timetable is now up to about 85% of the normal timetable. We have a number of measures in place to keep passengers safe including enhanced cleaning and sanitisation of trains and stations and high face covering compliance.

“As trains get busier, we’re encouraging people to use the full length of trains and platforms and check our website for details of less busy trains. Full information about Greater Anglia’s safer travel pledge is on our website.”

Greater Anglia's situation now mirrors the national picture. Graham Richards, director of planning and performance at the Office of Rail and Road, said: "This unprecedented fall in passenger numbers, the lowest annual fall since the time series began, has clearly had an impact on both rail usage and ticketing revenue.

“Despite this, recent estimates published by the Department for Transport show that rail usage has recovered to around 45% of pre-COVID levels by the end of May 2021."

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