Going for Growth. Recommendations to grow domestic rail services and benefits on the HS1 line
The railways are facing their most serious challenge in decades. Major macro trends such as the shift to hybrid working and the cost-of-living crisis, along with repeated rail strikes, have intervened to affect passenger demand.
To its great credit, the network has begun to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Train use has increased dramatically since travel restrictions eased, but the growth many operators had experienced post-Covid is now being affected again – passenger numbers have settled at around 85% of pre-pandemic levels. As a sector, we need to work hard to get growth back on track.
The sector faces a critical period where consumer behaviour is changing as a result of the pandemic. While this change may supress demand, issues such as growing concern with climate change have the potential to change consumer behaviour for the benefit of rail travel.
Rail operators must use this opportunity to get customers back using rail travel. There is clear evidence that rail travel, and the connectivity it brings, is good for the economy; further still, recent research shows that international travel by rail into the UK can be a key driver of economic growth, through tourism-related benefits.
The HS1 line plays a critical role in the UK’s domestic rail network as the only current high-speed rail line. Its success is totemic for the rest of the network, and if it can begin to grow again, it can provide a clear pathway back to growth for other operators and lines that have struggled to recover post-pandemic.
That ambition is the basis for this report. In it, HS1 Ltd – which owns the concession to operate the HS1 line – has outlined three key areas where targeted sup
port can help re-start growth on the line, increasing the economic and social benefits that come with it.
Growth is the single-most effective way for the HS1 system to boost the benefits of the line. While changes in Westminster and the wider world mean that the Government’s focus isn’t singularly aimed at growth, the rail sector must retain a growth mentality.
There is a risk that passenger numbers settle below pre-pandemic levels, in turn depressing operator revenue, leading to a reduction in services to save money. Only significant growth in passengers can address this challenge. In this report, we outline credible ways to increase use and the wider benefits of the HS1 system.
These asks complement, but are not dependent, on the creation of Great British Railways. They are areas the Government and industry can quickly deliver change in, and will be effective in the current regulatory environment.
The areas, in summary, are:
•Passenger improvements: a focus on making rail travel better value for customers through new ticketing models and improving passengers’ station experience.
•Supporting the HS1 system: a focus on helping the HS1 system help itself through greater regulatory flexibility as well as greater support for operators on the line.
•Sector-leading sustainability: a focus on ‘green growth’ through Government initiatives, as well as helping HS1 Ltd deliver more sustainability measures.