These are now the busiest days for train passengers to visit Leeds station

Rail passengers are now more likely to go to Yorkshire's busiest station on Fridays and Saturdays as passenger numbers slowly recover from the lockdown.

Friday, 7th August 2020, 2:57 pm
Updated Friday, 7th August 2020, 2:58 pm

Network Rail, which owns Leeds railway station, says footfall dropped to around six per cent of normal levels in the first weeks of the pandemic.

But it has since recovered to around 35 per cent of pre-covid levels, mirroring the steady increases in passengers on other forms of public transport.

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The latest data show that around 181,000 people are travelling through Leeds station on a weekly basis, with Fridays and Saturdays typically being the busiest when hospitality and retail outlets draw more people into the city.

The re-opening of pubs and shops in the last month is thought to be one of the reasons behind the increase in passengers.

Rob McIntosh, Managing Director for Network Rail’s Eastern Region, said: “We’ve worked really hard with our train company colleagues to make the railway as safe and welcoming as possible.

"We have put new, and extra, cleaning regimes in place on trains and at stations, and changed how we work to allow social distancing. It is pleasing to see our passengers return to the railway and we want the people our railway serves to feel safe as we welcome everyone back to the railway.”

Passengers boarding a train at Leeds station, where passenger numbers are now 35 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Pic: PA

Numbers are still way down on this time last year, when 520,084 people visited Leeds station during the same period.

And at Kings Cross station in London, which Network Rail also owns, there were 237,924 visitors in the week commencing July 27 compared with 1,083,319 this time last year.

Last month a transport expert appointed by the Government to run the North's biggest rail operator said he feared passengers were not "psychologically ready" to return to train travel in large numbers after months of being told to avoid public transport.

Richard George said he was worried about the long-term finances of rail operators due to the lack of passengers travelling by train, amid fears it could be up to a decade before demand returns to pre-lockdown levels.

Passenger numbers plummeted from March onwards as the Government advised people to avoid public transport where possible and it has been mandatory since June for passengers to wear a face covering. Social distancing restrictions mean trains could only carry a fraction of their normal numbers.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says he didn't think the coronavirus pandemic and the months of lockdown where passengers have been discouraged from using public transport would deter people "in the longer run".

And he said upgrades to transport infrastructure were often easier when fewer people are using the network, meaning now was "the time to invest".