Railway stations usage

Railway station usage, rail projects and additional information 

1997/1998-2019/2020

Railway station usage

Preston and Lancaster are important stations on the West Coast Mainline (WCML) and passenger usage figures have risen steadily over recent years at both locations, but since major electrification works from 2017 to 2019 there have been large fluctuations in numbers. In 2019/20 the number of passengers at Preston station came close to 5 million. This article does not cover the 2020-2021 period which will be severely affected by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are 52 stations in the 12 districts that form the Lancashire County Council area, and across this area passenger numbers have risen from just over 15 million in 2018/19 to 16.7 million in 2019/20. For the 62 stations in the wider Lancashire-14 area, numbers also rose, from a little under 18.5 million in 2018/19 to just over 20.5 million in 2019/20.

Total passenger numbers rose between 2018/19 and 2019/20 in all of the thirteen Lancashire local authorities that have stations on the national rail network. There are no national rail network services in Rossendale, only a preserved railway where passenger numbers are not counted for this study. Of the total 62 stations only four saw a fall during this period. The latest figures come with suggested reasons for some of the changes in passenger numbers from the Office of Rail and Road. The main one which affected 9 stations is 'Recovery from strikes and disruption in 2018' although the nature of the disruption is not specified. Of the other explanations which are similar to this reason, but are more detailed and do not mention strikes, fourteen specifically mention 'electrification', eight (on the lines to Blackpool South and Blackpool North) mention 'signalling works' and three of the Merseyrail operated stations have the reason: 'The number of entries and exits distributed across stations in the Merseyside PTE area has increased 6% as a result of additional tickets being included in the dataset for 2019-20. Recovery from platform upgrade works in 2018-19.'

Some of the increases in passenger numbers are very large, but generally these are for the smaller stations which are more prone to fluctuations. The reasons given are also very lengthy. The highest was 55.5% at Pleasington ('Recovery from significant 2018 disruption from timetable change and electrification works, in addition to ticket machine at station in 2019 and East Lancashire Line Service Improvements') followed by 48.7% at Heysham Port ('The May 2019 timetable introduced two additional through trains to/from Morecambe and an extra departure from Leeds in the morning peak'). The 44% rise at Layton is the highest for a station which has benefitted from electrification. 32 stations saw rises over 20% in passenger numbers. Blackpool South was one of the four stations where passenger numbers fell (-3.8%). This only seems likely if passengers on rail-replacement bus services were being included in the previous year. Passengers for some of the intermediate stations may have embarked or disembarked at established bus stops rather than the station itself, which could have affected the way their journeys were counted. Hoscar saw a 23% fall in passengers, but is a very small stop and is regularly subject to large fluctuations from year to year.

There are a number of rail stations that have reopened in the county since the 1980s. Moss Side was the first in 1983, but its rural location means that passenger numbers are small. Burnley Manchester Road, Buckshaw Parkway and Clitheroe have so far proved to be the most popular stations to have reopened.

Buckshaw Parkway (opened October 2011 at the site of a long-closed station that served the former Royal Ordnance factory at Euxton) is situated in an area of significant recent development built on this site, now called Buckshaw Village, and is on the busy line between Preston and Manchester.

At the regional level, across all 336 stations in the North West, passenger numbers continued to rise and now exceeds 250 million. For Great Britain, now with 2,566 stations in total, the passenger numbers still exceeded 3 billion, but were a little lower than in 2018/19.

We have provided a Microsoft Power BI report showing station usage from 1997/98 with tables, a map and graphs below. Click on the double-headed diagonal arrow to enlarge the slides to full-screen size. By pressing the Escape key 'Esc' a normal view is resumed.

Table 1 and Figures 1 to 3: 

Source: Office of Rail and Road

West Lancashire district includes Ormskirk, Aughton Park and Town Green stations that are in the Merseyrail transport area, whilst Appley Bridge is the only Lancashire station in the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport area. Being included in these transport areas presents advantages for local rail users.

Station usage figures at some locations are either totally or heavily influenced by people connecting with other forms of public transport, or visiting nearby attractions etc. For instance, the very small number of services to Heysham Harbour station, which is within the port complex, are operated to connect with sailings to the Isle of Man.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach allows direct access to the theme park that is the destination for a large number of young people using the station. Along with Squires Gate, the station is close to the southern end of the Fylde coast tram system that is operated by Blackpool transport. A £100 million upgrade of the system was completed in Easter 2012, which has reversed the previous falls in passenger numbers. The yearly reductions were exacerbated by a series of closures to allow for refurbishment work to proceed.

The Furness Line Community Rail Partnership includes Carnforth and Silverdale stations. There are few examples across the country where a working railway station on the national network is also a tourist attraction, but Carnforth station attracts thousands of visitors each year because of its connection with the classic film Brief Encounter.   

Stations such as Salwick and Hoscar have few users because they are in remote locations and only a small number of trains stop at these stations.

Rail projects that benefit Lancashire

The proposed new London to Manchester section of the High Speed 2 (HS2) incorporates a connection onto the existing West Coast Main Line to the south of Wigan. This will enable HS2 trains to serve additional destinations in the North West en route to Scotland. It is envisaged that the new route will give a journey time from Preston to London of just one hour and 24 minutes, and from Preston to Birmingham of 53 minutes.

Work to electrify more rail routes in the North West is now complete. The programme including the 25 mile route between Manchester and the intersection with the West Coast Mainline at Euxton was completed in early 2019. The 17 mile route between Blackpool North and Preston was completed in early 2018. The developments allow a number of local services that pass through Lancashire to be operated by quicker and more reliable electric trains.

The Network Rail website has press releases by broad geographic areas. There is track renewal work scheduled for 2021 to affect the Preston to Lancaster line

Train operating companies that serve Lancashire plus other rail-related businesses

Franchise arrangements were suspended in September 2020 as a result of Covid-19. Operating companies will continue in place, but without obligation to pay in the agreed offer for the franchise.

Virgin Trains operated the West Coast franchise that incorporates the route from London to Glasgow/Edinburgh, with services calling at Preston and Lancaster until December 2019 when the franchise was taken over by a new company called Avanti, a partnership between First Group and Trenitalia. The company also inherited the management of Lancaster and Preston stations. The West Coast franchise also operates an hourly Scotland to London service via Birmingham New Street, that also stops at Wolverhampton, Sandwell & Dudley, Birmingham International (for the airport), Coventry and Milton Keynes, and a less frequent direct London to Blackpool service.

The TransPennine Express franchise includes services between Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh that call at Lancaster and Preston. In December 2015, the franchise was awarded to First Group (took effect April 2016) and lasts for 9 or 10 years. Northern operates a range of local rail services that cover all but two of the 62 stations in the broader Lancashire area, and this was awarded to Arriva, also commenced April 2016 with a planned duration of 7 or 9 years, but was taken back under government control in January 2020. Merseyrail covers an electrified network that serves Liverpool and the surrounding area including a high density route to Ormskirk. On the network the electric current comes from a third rail rather than overhead wires. This franchise is operated by a partnership between Serco and Abellio.

The Department for Transport website has the details of all current rail franchises.

Haigh Rail is a rail engineering company in that is based in Lancashire. The Eric Wright Group is a large building industry business that has its HQ in Bamber Bridge to the south of Preston. Its civil engineering division includes a rail section that was established in 2012, and is able to bid for Network Rail infrastructure schemes across the UK.

Page updated January 2021