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Demand for first class rail travel hits 10 year high

Demand for first class rail travel has hit a 10 year high despite tough economic times as operators have encouraged a wider range of passengers to trade up from standard class.

Figures published today by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) show that first class rail journeys rose to 11.0 million in 2012 from 6.7 million in 2003. While first class travel has grown slower over the last five years than the same period previously, 2012 recorded the biggest jump since 2008 and the third largest annual increase in the past decade.

Since the sole dip in first class journeys in 2009 following cut backs on travel by the public and private sectors, train companies have offered discounts and improved services to attract more leisure travellers who may not previously have considered upgrading.

Sales of Advance first class tickets, where passengers book in advance to take advantage of discounted travel, have increased from 3.6 million in 2008 to 6.3 million in 2012 (76%) – equivalent to 121,000 Advance first class tickets a week.

First class journeys made by passengers using a Railcard, which provides discounts of up to a third off most fares, have risen by 52% between 2009 and 2012, from 1.3 million journeys in 2009 to 2.0 million. The biggest increases in first class Railcard journeys since 2009 have been among 16-25 year olds (68%), those with a Disabled Persons Railcard (66%) and over sixties with a Senior Railcard (48%).

‘Weekend First’ upgrades from £5 have also proved popular with passengers.

Train companies have introduced a range of improvements to encourage greater numbers of people to travel first class. These include:

- improved ‘at seat’ catering
- upgrading first class lounges and facilities
- refurbishing first class train interiors

The growth in first class has contributed to the overall boom in the popularity of rail travel. After decades of decline, journey numbers have risen almost continuously since passenger rail operations were privatised in the mid-1990s. Last year, journeys rose to 1.44 billion – their highest for 90 years.

Michael Roberts, Chief Executive at ATOC, said: “Train companies have responded to the tough economic climate by offering a range of deals and investing in improved services to encourage more passengers to travel first class. It is exactly this kind of commercial approach by operators that helps to explain why travelling by train has become more popular over a double dip recession, generating revenue to pay for services and sustaining government investment.”

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