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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Rail firms fear deserting passengers
Passengers getting off a train
Passenger numbers fell after the Hatfield crash
The train operating companies and Railtrack could pay heavily for the latest train crash through lost ticket sales and compensation.

The crash at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, is already causing severe disruption to services on the East Coast main line.

Many trains are being cancelled, and those that are running are being diverted onto other lines.

Large numbers of people will change their plans to travel by rail in the immediate future because of the delays they are likely to face.

Some might desert the railways for good either because they are worried about safety or because they think trains will not run on time.

Speed limits

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) told BBC News Online that it was too early to say how serious the disruption would be and how long it would last.

After the Hatfield disaster, nearly three years ago, the number of passengers travelling on the UK's trains fell by as much as 50%.

That is because that accident was caused by a faulty track.

And when it became clear that other tracks around the network might be similarly faulty, speed limits were introduced and a vast programme of repairs began.

Cheap tickets

Passengers turned their backs on the rail network and the train operating companies had to bear the cost, not only of lost ticket sales, but of compensation to those who were still travelling.

On Virgin Trains, for example, takings fell by nearly a third in the four months following the Hatfield crash in October 2000.

The company spent 10m on a campaign to offer cheap tickets and revive passenger numbers.

Other companies also carried fewer passengers and had to spend heavily to persuade more people to travel.


ATOC says passenger revenue in the last three months of 2000 was 20% lower than in 1999.

Railtrack will also have to pay heavily for this latest crash.

After Hatfield it spend hundreds of millions of pounds on repairs and on paying compensation to the train operating companies.

But if customers do desert the rail network it could bring benefits for other businesses.

Numbers will grow

After the Hatfield crash, the airports operator BAA said the number of people taking domestic flights rose by 14% in December.

And British Airways reported a 40% jump in bookings to some cities.

Although passengers might avoid the railways in the short term, numbers are still expected to continue to grow again in the next few years.

According to ATOC, rail passengers currently make 894 million rail journeys a year. Before the Hatfield crash the number was closer to a billion.

Numbers had been growing steadily during the 1980s but dropped suddenly during the recession.

Passengers were getting back onto the railways again in the1990s.

At the start of the new decade, Hatfield turned people away from trains and it is not yet clear how passengers will react to this latest crash.

The BBC's Rory Cellan Jones
"An industry struggling to recover from a crisis has been hit by another blow"
Richard Morris, West Anglia Great Northern Railway
"I am so upset about what has happened"

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