Record numbers of airline customers have turned to Virgin Trains, with a 250% increase in passengers travelling between Glasgow and London in recent weeks, and a seven-fold increase in passenger numbers on its London to Holyhead route, which links with ferry services to Ireland.
The dramatic recent rise – in the four weeks to May 1 - follows five years of continuing growth on Virgin Trains’ long-distance routes where there is airline competition. Advance booking information suggests that many frustrated airline passengers have now turned their backs on domestic flights, with reservations for the summer already showing increases on last year.
With at-seat power points, Wi-Fi, improved mobile phone reception and an onboard shop on all trains, Virgin Trains has seen its market share of the Manchester-London rail/air market increase from 38% in 2003 to 80% today. Since 2004 rail’s share of the Glasgow-London market has increased from 6% to 18%. On the Liverpool-London route domestic airlines saw the light and have long since abandoned the route.
Figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority also show that there has been a 12% year-on-year fall in domestic passenger traffic in the UK as train travel proves ever more popular.
Virgin Trains’ Chief Executive Officer Tony Collins said: “There is a clear trend which shows passengers are questioning the need for domestic air travel. The ‘on/off’ threats of strike action by British Airways have damaged domestic air travellers’ confidence that they will be able to travel when they want to. Thousands have already tried our trains and seen the benefits that rail can offer. The rail industry now needs to ensure that it responds to increases in passenger numbers with an increase in capacity. We have coped with the surge in demand and need to make sure we can deal with that growth long-term.”
Virgin Trains generally has seen growth of around 20% so far this year, well above the national average and this will substantially increase the 26 million passenger journeys made last year.
The number of former airline customers now using Virgin Trains’ services supports recent research by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) that a ‘fundamental shift’ is taking place in the nation’s travelling habits.
ATOC’s figures show that, on the ten main domestic air routes over the last four years, total journeys by rail have risen by 31%, whilst journeys by plane have fallen by 19%.