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| 1 minute read

...and then there's statistics

Last week's Bradshaw Address by the Secretary of State was widely covered, but I confess something made me uneasy - and I couldn't work out what it was, until I read it again for the third time yesterday.

In reminding everyone how much support Government had provided to rail during the pandemic, the SoS pointed out that the support was "subsidising an industry that delivers between only 1.5% and 2% of all journeys that are taken by the public". I really don't like the word "subsidy" in this context (does Government provide subsidy to repair our road network?), and this caused me to miss the significance of the data.

I always thought rail mode share throughout my career was tracking from 5% in the 1990s to 10% more recently. So how does this fit with 1.5–2%? The answer is that I always referred to TSGB (Transport Statistics Great Britain) for rail mode share. Rail mode share rose to 10% pre-pandemic and had recovered to 7% last year. But this is mode share based on distance travelled. See table TSGB0101, which has a time series dating back to 1952:

Modal comparisons (TSGB01) - GOV.UK (

Rail journeys are typically longer than most other modes. The SoS was referring to mode share based on the number of journeys, as shown in table NTS0303 here:

Mode of travel - GOV.UK (

Both statistics are correct. But I can't help thinking that the 1.5–2% statistic helps those who want to justify a reduction in expenditure on rail, rather than those who want to support rail's cause in improving efficiency. And what about freight?

Read next: Reflecting on the Bradshaw Address By Richard Harper


rail, active transport