Sales of tickets direct to consumers by Trainline, the online rail ticket booking service, are far outstripping the return of passengers to Britain’s railways.
Trainline said yesterday that sales in the UK in June, July and August had returned to 95 per cent of the levels recorded in the same pre-pandemic quarter in 2019. That compares with rail patronage reckoned to be stuck at between 60 per cent and 65 per cent of pre-Covid levels.
Trainline said that its outperformance was because its customers were embracing paperless electronic tickets stored in their smartphones. The accelerating transition to e-tickets is reckoned to account for about 40 per cent of all rail tickets sold in Britain.
Trainline makes its money from charging a small fee for each transaction. The company said that those sales — plus a recovery to levels greater than before the pandemic in its operations in France, Italy, Germany and Spain — would lead to its return to underlying pre-tax operating profitability in the first half of its year to the end of August of £13 million to £15 million.
In the 12 months to the end of February — covering almost a full year of Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions — it made a £25 million underlying operating loss for a total loss before tax of £106 million.
Sales to businesses and travel agents are stuck in the doldrums, at only 23 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the last trading quarter. There were total sales across all operations of £1 billion for the six months to the end of August. That was 54 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, but its first quarter to the end of May was hit by the third wave of lockdown and trading was only 37 per cent of levels two years ago, Its second quarter was at 71 per cent of 2019 levels.
Jody Ford, 48, chief executive, said: “We remain positive about the long- term tailwinds, including the significant planned investment in rail capacity, particularly on high-speed routes, and growing awareness of the environmental benefits of travelling by train.”