AS NEW commuting habits form this autumn, the West Midlands could be hit by a double whammy of gridlocked roads and business closures if there is a significant ongoing reduction in train commuters, new research shows.
Latest figures from the rail industry show train commuting is at just a third of pre-pandemic levels.
This is expected to increase this month but could take years to return to numbers seen in 2019.
And while train travel lags, car travel is recovering much more quickly according to government data, with the number of car journeys almost reaching pre-pandemic levels at around 96 per cent.
Now, new research by WPI Economics for the Rail Delivery Group can reveal the staggering cost of that trend.
A 20 per cent shift of pre-pandemic train passengers to road could lead to five million extra hours of traffic congestion in the region each year, costing the area up to £47million a year.
Nationwide, this shift to car travel could total an extra 300 million hours.
The research also shows the extent to which businesses such as coffee shops, pubs and retailers in the West Midlands could also suffer if rail travel doesn’t pick up.
Rail passengers play a vital role in supporting businesses in the region spending an average of £72 per journey, pre-pandemic.
Over the year, excluding fares this amounts to a total of £2billion spent by train travellers to the West Midlands on things like food and drink (£840m), shopping (£650m), and culture and entertainment (£240m).
Although commuting and business journeys by rail are still well below pre-pandemic levels, leisure journeys are recovering more quickly, suggesting that many people feel confident travelling by train.
To encourage more people to take the train, the rail industry is running its biggest national marketing campaign in a generation, under the strapline ‘Let’s get back on track’.