Fall in rail passenger journeys in London and south east

by Dave Hill

Rail passenger journeys in London and on commuter lines in the south east of England have fallen sharply, raising questions about the prospects for the capital’s economy.

Figures from regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) showed a 4.5% overall reduction for the four biggest rail operators in the region during the first quarter of the 2017/18 financial year compared with the same period in 2016/17.

South West trains saw the largest drop, a striking 8.8%, followed by Southeastern (down 7.4%) and Govia Thameslink, which runs the troubled Southern service (down 5.3%). Only London Overground saw a rise in passenger journeys – a 1.3% increase.

The distances travelled by passengers in London and the south east also fell, by 3.1% – the third quarter in succession there’s been a fall on this measure – while the figure for Britain as a whole went up. Again, South West suffered the most, though the ORR says this could have been partly due to a change in the scheduling for Wimbledon fortnight, which took place later than usual in 2017, pushing into the second quarter.

London Underground has also reported a fall off in passenger numbers, its first since 2010, forming part of what the GLA Economics team at City Hall described as a set of “mixed signals” for London’s economy and one senior analyst called as “a proper leading edge indicator of serious insidious economic damage from Brexit”.

Other suggestions for possible contributors to the fall have included continued overcrowding on some services and more passengers choosing to walk for short distances instead.

Last month, it emerged that the Bank of England regards the loss of 75,000 financial sector jobs resulting from Brexit over the next three to five years to be “a reasonable scenario” to anticipate.

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