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Passenger rail travel in the UK – statistics & facts

The United Kingdom’s rail services are used for a distance of over 80 billion passenger-kilometers, a figure that grew steadily over several decades until 2019. Its passenger rail industry comprises various segments, including conventional rail, light rail, and metro, with a high-speed rail construction project also under way. The UK main rail line boasts over 2,500 stations, 23 operating companies, and almost 16,000 kilometers of railroad tracks – just over 30 percent of which have been electrified. Ranked twenty-first overall when it comes to rail electrification rates in Europe, the United Kingdom has some way to go before it can compete with some of its European neighbors.

Modal overview and comparison

Rail journeys only represent less than ten percent of all journeys made in the United Kingdom by transport mode – transport by car or van dominates the modal split at around 86 percent. However, although automobiles are ranked the most popular means of passenger transportation in the United Kingdom, rail services have remained an integral part of traveling within and between cities nationwide. Demand for rail services has almost doubled since the network was privatized in mid-1990 to approximately 1.7 billion passenger journeys per year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interestingly, passenger satisfaction scored slightly higher with rail journeys at 82 percent compared with journeys taken by car and by bus. Rail journeys are furthermore the safest mode of transport in the United Kingdom, with an annual average of less than one fatality per billion passenger-miles; cars ranked as the sixth-safest form of travel in the country, and motorcycles were classed as the most dangerous form of travel.

A regional breakdown

Between 2019 and 2020, the regions handling the greatest rail passenger volume nationwide include London, the South East, and the east of England – altogether, they accounted for around 780 million passenger journeys made and over 80 percent of all passenger journeys to and from every UK region. Unsurprisingly, the United Kingdom’s busiest train stations were those connected to the London Underground, including London Waterloo. In 2020/2021, Clapham Junction saw the greatest number of passenger interchanges in the United Kingdom that year, almost five times the number at Waterloo station.

Besides the metro system in London, there are various other light rail and metro systems located in the United Kingdom, such as in Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Over recent fiscal years before the COVID-19 outbreak, Edinburgh recorded more than 7 million passenger journeys on its tram network; Manchester Metrolink observed ridership reaching over 44 million passenger journeys annually.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 30 most important statistics relating to "Passenger rail travel in the UK".

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