Government should seize opportunity to grow passenger rail

19 February 2024 


New research by consultancy Steer for the Railway Industry Association has found that rail passenger numbers could double by 2050.

The report says that:

  • Rail passenger volumes could grow between at least 37% and nearly 100% up to 2050 (compared with the pre-pandemic peak), equating to between 1.6% and 3.0% average growth per annum; and
  • Steer is confident that under any scenario rail demand in the UK will grow beyond today’s network, growth that government policy, rail services and operators will need to accommodate.

The Steer analysis sets out the first scenarios for future passenger rail growth to be published since the pandemic and concludes that even under the most pessimistic scenarios, rail demand in the UK is likely to show a steady and continuing upturn. It sets out a suite of demand drivers including population and economic growth but also policy intervention scenarios which could further stimulate long-term passenger rail growth and – critically – increase revenues. Earlier this month the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that the UK population will rise by 6.6 million or 10% to 73.7 million in the next 15 years to mid-2036 – this will have significant implications for infrastructure and transport. This upwards revision to the ONS projections is not included in the above forecasts, underlining the robustness of the continued growth assumptions in the Steer report.

Commenting on the research Darren Caplan, Railway Industry Association Chief Executive, said: “This landmark report sets out a range of scenarios for future rail passenger growth, yet under all of them passenger numbers grow, which will have clear impacts on capacity in the future.

“Under the lowest growth scenario, even if the UK Government does nothing and lets the industry drift along as it is rail passenger numbers still grow by a third in the 25 years to 2050. Alternatively, if a future Government adopts a bold and ambitious strategy to improve the customer offer and drive some behavioural change, passenger numbers could double by 2050, dramatically increasing revenues. Freight is also likely to grow in this time, with the Government itself setting a 75% growth target over the next 25 years.

“So there is clearly a huge opportunity to expand rail travel, benefiting the UK’s economy and its connectivity, as well as bringing social and decarbonisation benefits. To achieve this, we need to see rail reform and a long-term rail strategy as soon as possible, including a plan for increased north-south capacity, which all rail experts agree will not be delivered under current plans.”

View the full report here

Notes to Editors
  1. About RIA: The Railway Industry Association (RIA) is the voice of the UK rail supply community. We help to grow a sustainable, high-performing, railway supply industry, and to export UK rail expertise and products. RIA has over 360 companies in membership in a sector that contributes £43 billion in economic growth and £14 billion in tax revenue each year, as well as employing 710,000 people. It is also a vital industry for the UK’s economic recovery, supporting green investment and jobs in towns and communities across the UK; for every £1 spent in rail, £2.50 is generated in the wider economy. RIA’s membership is active across the whole of railway supply, covering a diverse range of products and services and including both multi-national companies and SMEs (60% by number).