Cash-strapped Britain flocks to first class rail travel

The UK might be continuing to walk a tightrope of recession, and each day the news reports the latest privations and cutbacks that are being imposed on the nation, but first class rail travel has never been so popular.

The latest report from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), which has compiled the figures for all of the UK’s regional operators into one total, reveals that more than 11 million first class or equivalent tickets were sold last year. That means that the luxury compartments are even more popular now than they were decades ago when rail was a far more prominent part of everyday travel.

However, according to the ATOC, the profile of the typical first class traveller has changed. With the recession having put paid to the bottomless expense accounts of travelling executives, the new luxury travellers include young Saturday night revellers on inter-city club visits, hen or stag parties making the same trip, and football fans wanting a little more comfort on away days.

A major contributory factor to the shift in first class rail usage has been a rationalisation of cost and the availability of special offers. By booking well in advance, a one-way, first class ticket from Manchester to London can be bought for under £40. Weekend and evening offers can see upgrades to first class costing as little as a £5 surcharge.

In the 10 years that the ATOC has been compiling ticket sales information, first class sales have risen to last year’s high from just over 6.5 million in 2003.

ATOC chief executive, Michael Roberts, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘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.’