By Marcus Leach

Passenger numbers on the railways grew by 5.3% over the summer months, with 2021 expected to yield better figures yet.

The figures, published by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), confirm that the railways are set for their busiest peacetime year since the 1920s with well over 1.3bn journeys expected to have been made by train by the end of 2011.

According to ATOC, one of the reasons behind the rise in rail travel is the continuing high price of petrol, leading more leisure travellers to switch from road to rail when taking summer breaks or day trips out with the family.

Increasing numbers of people are taking advantage of operators offering cheap Advance tickets for those who book early. Sales of these tickets have almost doubled in the last four years, with almost a million now bought every week.

Separate figures from ATOC show a surge in the number of people choosing to visit seaside resorts and beauty spots by rail, with passenger numbers on some small rural branch lines almost doubling over the last few years.

Overall, petrol prices rose slightly during the quarter. In September prices remained 18% higher than in the same month last year. This compares with an average rise in rail fares of 6.2% in January. The AA has calculated that drivers have cut their petrol consumption by more than 15% since the start of the recession.

In Quarter 3 2011 (26 June — 17 September):

- There were 314.3 million passenger journeys, compared to 298.4m million in Q3 2010 - a rise of 5.3%.

- Journeys in London and the South East grew by 5.8%; long distance journeys by 4.0%; regional journeys by 4.4%.

Other significant factors contributing to continued growth in rail travel include:

- Investment in better and more frequent services on many routes, high levels of punctuality and reliability, new stations, more car parking spaces and the roll-out of services such as Wi-Fi.

- Continued rise in the use of season tickets. Journeys on season tickets, used almost exclusively by commuters, rose 3.5% when compared to the same quarter last year. Over half a million people commute into and out of London every weekday.

“Despite difficult financial times, more people are choosing to go by train when travelling to work and on business, visiting friends and family, or just taking a well-earned break," Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of ATOC, said.

"Over the summer, leisure travellers and families left the car keys at home and took advantage of cheap train tickets as a way of getting around the country for less.

“The railways continue to play a central role in supporting jobs and businesses, which is why sustained investment will be the key to promoting long-term sustainable economic growth.”

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