West Coast Main Line on course to 50 million passengers ahead of HS2 after breaking records

Virgin Trains has revealed that almost 40 million passengers travelled on the West Coast Main Line - which runs through Wigan, Preston and Lancaster - in 2018/19.
Virgin Trains has revealed that almost 40 million passengers travelled on the West Coast Main Line - which runs through Wigan, Preston and Lancaster - in 2018/19.

Record-breaking numbers of passengers are using the West Coast Main Line - which runs through Wigan, Preston and Lancaster - new figures reveal.

Nearly 40 million journeys were made over the last year (2018/19) on the route connecting London to the north west and Scotland, a 3.1 per cent increase on the previous year and up by nearly 10m compared with six years previously.

The current growth trajectory will see nearly 50m passenger journeys being made on the west coast route by 2026 when the HS2 route between London and Birmingham is due to open.

It comes as a new report by Campaign for Better Transport found that growth on the west coast route had nearly doubled that of the rest of the rail industry following “transformative” investment by government and industry in the Virgin High Frequency timetable a decade ago.

Transformation of the West Coast Mainline: How rail investment is benefitting people, the environment and the economy found that upgrades to the line, along with the smooth introduction of the transformative Virgin High Frequency timetable and new trains, have achieved not just better journeys and increased passenger numbers, but also regional and local economic growth, less congested roads and lower carbon emissions from transport.

Phil Whittingham, managing director for Virgin Trains said today’s rate of passenger growth had taken years of investment and commitment.

He said: “We have worked tirelessly with Government and industry partners to completely transform the West Coast route, introducing a fleet of new trains, achieving one of the biggest timetable changes since privatisation without a hitch and bringing a focus on customer experience that the industry had not experienced before. This report offers a useful insight into the scale of this transformation and its wider positive impacts on regional economies and the environment.”

The VHF timetable introduced shorter, more frequent journeys connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow and other key destinations on the 400-mile west coast route when it was launched from December 2008.

Between 2006 and 2018, Virgin Trains journeys grew by 105%, compared with growth of 59 per cent across all train operators and 62 per cent in the long-distance sector, the report found.