Rail travel on track as record number of Wiganers ditch their cars

A Virgin train
A Virgin train

The numbers of Wiganers abandoning their cars to travel to London by train has reached record levels, new analysis shows.

A report by the Campaign for Better Transport has found the West Coast Main Line as a whole had nearly 40 million journeys made on it in 2018-19, a 3.1 per cent rise on the previous year and a jump of almost 10 million trips from six years ago.

The service, which includes the route linking Wigan North Western to London in less than two hours, is run by Virgin Trains which was unsurprisingly delighted by the report.

The campaign group was also quick to point out the benefits of leaving the car at home, saying investment has cut pollution and motorway congestion as well as boosting economies in regions including the North West.

Following months when rail services in the borough have frequently made headlines for the wrong reasons, with Northern passengers in the borough enduring a massive strike in a safety row, the campaign says the passenger numbers are a reminder of what investing in public transport can achieve.

The Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive Darren Shirley said: “At a time when rail investment is being questioned because of poorly-implemented timetable changes, problems with franchises and over-running and over-budget projects, it is easy to lose sight of the huge benefits which can be achieved.

“Rather than being happy side effects, outcomes such as lower carbon emissions, support for local economies and tackling road congestion should be regarded as a direct consequence of support for the railways.

“The improvements to the West Coast Mainline were achieved thanks to a partnership of government and industry investment.

“With radical changes to the UK rail system under consideration as part of the rail review, this report shows how thinking, collaboration and cooperation can have far reaching and long-term benefits.”

Virgin Trains has ploughed money into modernising Victorian infrastructure on the rail network as well as introducing high-tech trains such as the tilting Pendolinos and Super Voyagers.

The report found there are now seven million fewer car journeys a year between Manchester and London and 1.7 million fewer trips to the capital by aircraft.

A reduction of 5,000 in the number of domestic flights has brought 60,000 tonnes of carbon savings between 2004 and 2017, the report found.

Drivers are also seeing benefits across the country, with motorists travelling through Birmingham enjoying fewer peak-time traffic problems and one million fewer cars being on the roads in the Lake District National Park.

At current growth rates i is likely almost 50 million passenger journeys will be made along the entire West Coast Main Line by 2026 when the HS2 route from London to Birmingham is due to open.

Virgin Trains managing director Phil Whittingham said: “This report offers a useful insight into the scale of this transformation and its wider positive impacts on regional economies and the environment.”