South Western Railway passenger journeys dropped by 18m last year as franchises veer off track

 
Alexandra Rogers
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Strikes have played a part in the drop in SWR's passenger journeys (Source: Getty)

Embattled train operator South Western Railway (SWR) saw a dramatic drop of 18m passenger journeys over the past year as it grappled with engineering works at Waterloo, a switch in franchise ownership and industrial action.

London's busiest station underwent an upgrade in a bid to boost capacity by 30 per cent, which has largely contributed to the drop as platforms closed and industrial works are carried out.

However, SWR has also been hit with industrial action over the past year, with the latest round of strikes due to hit commuters later this month between the 21st and 23 June.

The data from the rail regulator the Office for Road and Rail (ORR) paints a bleak picture for the franchise model that dominates the UK rail industry. It has come under serious scrutiny over the past year owing to collapse of the joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin Trains on the East Coast franchise.

Overly optimistic predictions on the growth of passenger numbers led to losses of £200m, forcing the government to renationalise the line. The formal handover will take place at the end of the month.

Another franchise that has had a kicking from commuters has been Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which suffered a 2m drop in passenger numbers over the past year thanks to staffing shortages, industrial action and planned cancellations.

The dramatic drop marks the second year in the row that passenger numbers have fallen on the franchise. GTR, which runs the Thameslink, Southern, Gatwick Express and Great Northern services, still recorded the largest of passenger journeys, however, at 319m.

Read more: Stagecoach to bid for East Midlands franchise despite East Coast failures

The ORR data is another blow for the rail industry. Franchised rail passenger journeys dropped for the first time since the financial crash, falling to 1.7bn. The decline was driven by a 9.2 per cent fall in season ticket journeys as customers shifted towards using ordinary tickets as strikes and cancellations make it harder to plan ahead.

A decade ago, season tickets accounted for 48 per cent of market share; this has now dropped to 38 per cent. However, while the volume of season ticket journeys has fallen in the last two years, advanced, anytime and off-peak tickets have increased over the same period.

Revenue for season tickets was at its lowest level since 2013-14, but the price of an individual ticket rose to £5.66, an increase of 3.7 per cent compared to the previous year.

Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said: “There are over 1.7 bn rail journeys made every year and despite some slowing down, this growth isn’t expected to hit the brakes in the long term. While technology may mean fewer people are travelling into work every day, anyone taking the train into our major cities will know that investment to run more trains is essential.

“To meet the increased demand for rail over the coming decades, rail companies are working together to deliver record investment in rail to improve for customers, communities and the economy, including introducing 6,400 extra services a week by 2021.”

Read more: Grayling told to resign following scathing report on franchise model

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