Manchester Metrolink bucks the trend as light rail journeys fall

Its that time of year again when the Department for Transport release details of journeys taken on light rail across England – and its not good news with a significant fall in the total number of journeys on all systems except for Manchester Metrolink. Across all systems there is a fall of 4.2% which is said to be the biggest decrease in almost 30 years. Whilst it was inevitable that there would be some effect of the Covid-19 pandemic these figures only run up until the end of March 2020, which would only have seen a short period of the restrictions on public transport travel so other reasons have combined to cause this drastic fall across England.

In total 263.4 million passenger journeys were made in the 12 months to the end of March 2020 – this is a fall of 11.4 million journeys (which clearly wouldn’t all have been taken during the latter half of March!) and brings the total numbers below the 2016/17 level. The biggest fall was experienced on the two London systems (the Docklands Light Railway and London Tramlink) which fell by 4.3% with the other non-London systems “just” seeing a fall of 4.0%.

There are decreases of varying levels on every system reviewed (see further down the article for the full figures) – which includes the DLR and Tramlink systems in London as well as Blackpool Tramway, Manchester Metrolink, Nottingham Express Transit, Stagecoach Supertram, Tyne and Wear Metro and West Midlands Metro – with the exception of Manchester Metrolink which has managed to report a 1.3% increase in passenger journeys (although the same fall in passenger revenue!) Decreases range from 0.5% on Nottingham Express Transit all the way up to a large 11.9% on Stagecoach Supertram.

Whilst there has been a general fall in passenger journeys, vehicle miles have shown a more mixed picture with an overall decrease of 1.2% but this has included small increases of 0.2% on Tramlink, 2.1% on the Blackpool Tramway and a larger 8.2% on the West Midlands Metro.

Passenger revenue is inevitably down as well at 3.0% in London and 2.2% outside London. Again, there are some outliers here with Nottingham Express Transit up 1.5% and West Midlands Metro up by 3.5%.

During these 12 months two extensions have opened with the short Birmingham Westside line to Library on the West Midlands Metro (December 2019) and the more extensive Trafford Park line on Manchester Metrolink (March 2020, so only limited effect to the figures). Also of note in the report is confirmation that the Tyne and Wear Metro have now written off one of their Metro Cars following a derailment – this is presumed to be 4022 which has been in Bristol for nearly three years undergoing “repairs”.

So, what are the reasons for the fall in passenger journeys? Obviously, the pandemic has had an impact but travel restrictions and advice not to travel was only in place for 15 days of this 12 month period (eight days of the lockdown and seven days of the “work from home” message). This obviously led to a fall in passenger numbers but the sheer size of the fall on most systems suggests something else is at play.

Potential reasons given for falls in passenger numbers in the report include:

* Blackpool Tramway – bus replacement service 29th April to 17th May 2019 between Bispham and Fleetwood Ferry. A 1 day shut-down in February 2020 and two weeks of stormy weather in summer 2019 leading to lower visitor numbers to the resort.

* Docklands Light Railway – Extinction Rebellion protests halted services 17th October 2019.

* London Tramlink – Replacement of Blackhorse Lane Bridge affected services October 2019 and February 2020.

* Stagecoach Supertram – Service suspended 9th to 10th April and 14th to 17th December 2019 due to a fault on the tram-trains. Rail replacement work in summer 2019 and flooding around the system also had an impact.

* Tyne and Wear Metro – Overhead line failures in April 2019 led to service suspension for several days. Industrial action in December 2019.

Whilst these reasons do give some explanation – for instance the continued unreliability of the Tyne and Wear Metro network alluded to in just couple of instances above – it would appear to this writer at least that they can’t explain completely the fall in numbers and it surely must be a concern to all systems that even in a pre-pandemic world passenger journeys were on the decrease. But I’m always happy to stand corrected!

And if you think these figures are a concern come back in June 2021 and see just how low they’ve gone by then!

Passenger numbers by system

Blackpool Tramway – 4.8m (2018/9 – 5.2m) decrease of 7.6%

Docklands Light Railway – 116.8m (2018/9 – 121.8m) decrease of 4.1%

London Tramlink – 27.2m (2018/9 – 28.7m) decrease of 5.3%

Manchester Metrolink – 44.3m (2018/9 – 43.7m) increase of 1.3%

Nottingham Express Transit – 18.7m (2018/9 – 18.8m) decrease of 0.5%

Stagecoach Supertram – 10.5m (2018/9 – 11.9m) decrease of 11.9%

Tyne and Wear Metro – 33.1m (2018/9 – 36.4m) decrease of 9.2%

West Midlands Metro – 8.0m (2018/9 – 8.3m) decrease of 2.8% Note: the 2018/9 figure has been amended since published last year (we had it as 5.9m!) and it is said figures from then on can’t be compared to 2017/8 and earlier.

Vehicle Miles by system

Blackpool Tramway – 0.7m (2018/9 – 0.6m) increase of 2.1%

Docklands Light Railway – 3.8m (2018/9 – 3.8m) decrease of 0.5%

London Tramlink – 2.0m (2018/9 – 2.0m) increase of 0.2%

Manchester Metrolink – 7.9m (2018/9 – 8.0m) decrease of 0.6%

Nottingham Express Transit – 1.9m (2018/9 – 1.9m) decrease of 0.6%

Stagecoach Supertram – 1.5m (2018/9 – 1.6m) decrease of 4.9%

Tyne and Wear Metro – 3.3m (2018/9 – 3.4m) decrease of 4.7%

West Midlands Metro – 1.2m (2018/9 – 1.1m) increase of 8.2%

Passenger Revenue by system

Blackpool Tramway – £6.7m (2018/9 – £7.0m) decrease of 6.1% Note: the figure for 2018/9 has been revised (originally down as £6.8m)

Docklands Light Railway – £168.8m (2018/9 – £176.5m) decrease of 3.5%

London Tramlink – £22.7m (2018/9 – £23.5m) decrease of 5.0%

Manchester Metrolink – £82.6m (2018/9 – £82.1m) decrease of 1.3%

Nottingham Express Transit – £21.3m (2018/9 – £20.6m) increase of 1.5%

Stagecoach Supertram – £13.8m (2018/9 – £14.0m) decrease of 3.3%

Tyne and Wear Metro – £49.9m (2018/9 – £51.9m) decrease of 5.5%

West Midlands Metro – £11.3m (2018/9 – £10.7m) increase of 3.5%

As these figures are published by the Department for Transport for English systems only, Edinburgh Trams isn’t included in the main release but if you take a look at the various documents included it does feature. These show that it too has seen a decrease in passengers from 7.5m (the same figure it had for two years in a row) down to 7.1m. Passenger revenue increased to £15.9m (from £15.7m) and vehicle miles remained at 0.9m.

* The full – and in-depth – data from the Department for Transport can be downloaded from their website at whilst the summary report is available here.


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