Passenger numbers on train services in the West Midlands increased but below pre-Covid levels nationally

Passenger numbers on trains through the West Midlands increased this year – but journeys are still far below pre-Covid levels nationally, the rail regulator has said.

Figures from The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) showed West Midlands Trains recorded more than seven million passengers between April and June this year.

And Transport for Wales and Avanti West Coast, whose services pass through the region, saw more than three million passengers each, the data shows.

It comes as the final lockdown restrictions were eased by the Government earlier this year with efforts made to help people back into work amid the pandemic.

Nationally, there were 182 million passenger journeys, which was more than the 35 million over the same quarter last year during the height of lockdown rules.

But it is still a "long way down" on the 437 million journeys made in the same quarter in 2019-2020, although the rail sector is showing signs of bouncing back.

West Midlands Trains, which runs West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway services, saw an increase of 31.2 per cent in passenger numbers.

More than seven million passengers used the service overall – an increase on the same quarter the year before in which there was just over one million passengers.

But the data showed this was still far down from the 19.3 million passenger journeys recorded by the company, which runs services across the region as well as to London and Liverpool, pre-pandemic in 2019-2020.

A spokesman for the train company said: "At the height of the pandemic passenger numbers were down as much as 95 per cent so although there is some way to go it has been pleasing to welcome so many thousands of people back on board over recent months.

"We know the pandemic has had a profound effect on many people’s travel habits which is why we introduced flexible season tickets for customers travelling fewer days per week and maintained our commitment to cleaning and hygiene so passengers can travel with confidence."

Transport for Wales, which runs services which pass through the region and into Shropshire and Wales, saw an equally-big increase of 33 per cent this year on the previous year – with more than three million passengers.

The figure was an increase on the same quarter the year before which had seen around 370,000 passenger journeys made. No figures were available for 2019-2020, pre-pandemic.

Jan Chaudhry-Van der Velde, managing director of Transport for Wales Rail, said: "We’ve seen passengers returning in greater numbers each month since lockdown restrictions were eased earlier in the year, and the summer was busy with stay-cationers and day trippers, particularly on routes to the coast.

"Public transport remains a safe way to travel, and we have a number of measures in place to keep our customers safe including enhanced cleaning on trains and at stations. In Wales, wearing of face coverings on our trains continues to be a requirement of the public health regulations, unless exempt. Our online capacity checker tool also allows customers to check how busy their train is likely to be based on recent passenger count data.

"While passenger figures are currently below pre-Covid levels, with the significant investment we are making in the Wales and Borders network we are confident of a full recovery of passenger numbers over the next few years as we come out of the coronavirus pandemic."

And Avanti West Coast, which runs services in the region and to London, Manchester, Liverpool as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, saw an increase of 28.1 per cent with more than three million passengers – a rise from the 640,000 recorded in the same quarter the year before.

The company took over the West Coast Partnership franchise, then run by Virgin Trains, meaning there are no comparative figures pre-pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "After our trains were for those making essential journeys while lockdown restrictions were in place, we’re pleased to be welcoming people back to the railway as they reconnect with friends and family, explore the great cities or visit beautiful destinations on our route for UK getaways.

"We’re committed to making sure our customers can travel with confidence by ventilating our trains to refresh air, carrying out enhanced cleaning on-board and at stations, and providing information based on Government guidance."

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