'Destination Growth' - new report calls for investment 'catch up' on regional rail

Train in station
  • Report shows sector with lowest investment has seen fastest growth
  • New regional rail train fleet would bring at least £3.90 of benefits for every pound invested
  • Call for end to investment 'ice age' on regional rail as commuter numbers soar

A new report from pteg, published today, Thursday 1st October, 'Destination Growth - the case for Britain’s regional railways', finds that despite seeing by far the lowest levels of investment of any rail sector, the regional rail sector has seen astonishing levels of growth.

Over the last ten years passenger kilometres and passenger revenue have grown faster than either InterCity or London and the South East, and until recently passenger numbers were growing faster too.

At many individual stations demand has grown at twice the national average, or more, including Huddersfield (up 164%), Bolton (up 130%), Newton-Le-Willows (up 227%) and Leeds (up 146%).

One regional train operator - TransPennine Express has the second highest number of passengers per available train seating in the country (after London Overground).

The report can be downloaded here:


The report also shows that this growth has been achieved with much of the network on stand-still frequencies and with an ageing train fleet. Where there has been investment in the network then growth has ramped up even faster.

The report shows that in West Yorkshire, for example, rail on modernised routes has captured a large majority of commuting trips – regional rail now has 77% of commuter trips to Leeds from Ilkley and 80% of the commuter market from Keighley on the electrified and upgraded Wharfedale and Airedale routes. Rail’s share of commuter traffic on the un-modernised routes from Harrogate and Pontefract is 37% and 36% respectively.

Tobyn Hughes, who leads for pteg on rail, said:

'Despite an investment 'ice age' on much of the regional rail passenger network over the last twenty years, passenger numbers have been soaring even on routes where timetables stay the same and the trains providing those services are among the oldest on the network. Travellers are voting with their feet because rail fits with wider economic and social change. From getting commuters into city centre workplaces, to opening up rural economies to tourism - regional rail networks are playing a key role in building more robust and sustainable regional economies.’

The report also sets out the case for a more consistent and comprehensive investment programme for Regional Rail.

It argues that the time is right for such an approach because of:

  • The proven role of targeted transport investment in supporting economic growth and the need to rebalance the economy through stronger growth in the regions.
  • Rapid progress on devolution of rail responsibilities - building on the benefits already seen in Scotland, London and Merseyside.
  • The need to ensure that HS2 is complemented by effective feeder services and can benefit from released capacity.

The report looks at two investment scenarios - one for a modern fleet of diesel trains and the second for a modern fleet of electric trains. It found economic benefits of between 3.9 and 4.4 pounds for every pound invested when compared with a business as usual scenario. Lower operating costs and high passenger numbers would lead to subsidy requirements being slashed, with the possibility of the network being self-supporting.

Tobyn Hughes said:

'Recently there have been welcome signs that the realities on the ground are being recognised in Government rail policy with, for example, the commitments to new trains in the Northern franchise. This report shows the substantial benefits that would come from building on that base to overhaul the regional rail network as a whole.  Lines with signaling systems from the age of Queen Victoria, and with trains built when mobile phone were the size of house bricks, are costly to run and put potential passengers off. A better alternative is to invest to save. This will drive up patronage, reduce costs, support regional growth plans, create jobs and get more people where they need to be in a more sustainable and civilised way. We know this approach works because where we have seen regional rail routes modernised some spectacular patronage growth has followed.'


For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445 / 0781 804 1485

pteg represents public sector bodies with key transport responsibilities in the six largest city regions outside London:  Transport for Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, South Yorkshire PTE, Centro, Nexus and Merseytravel.