The Railway Industry Association has continued to highlight strong growth in passenger numbers, which reached more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels in mid-August. However, senior figures have urged caution, highlighting that the recovery of revenue is much lower.
Passenger numbers reached 95% of pre-pandemic levels on 10 August, with RIA Chief Executive Darren Caplan describing the figure as ‘astonishing’. ‘One must assume it is only a matter of time before we are back to 100% of pre-Covid levels’ he continued. ‘Given this, RIA and our members once again urge the Treasury and policymakers and influencers not to base 30-year programmes and forecasts for the future of rail on the abnormal period of the pandemic, but instead to plan increased investment for the growth in capacity we are going to need in the years ahead.’
However, it is understood revenue is still lagging at around 75% of pre-Covid levels while costs are broadly at pre-Covid levels. One insider commented to Modern Railways that the issue is fewer season ticket holders and fewer business travellers paying Anytime fares.
Another concern highlighted is the fact that responsibility for revenues and costs is held in different places. While the Department for Transport is putting pressure on operators to keep their costs down, revenues are going to the Treasury. There are widespread concerns this separation, along with the lack of incentive for operators to grow revenue under the contracts on which they are operating, will perpetuate the financial shortfall the industry is facing.