Covid slashed ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper ticket sales by £330m

The huge fall in train ticket sales caused Covid has been laid bare in annual accounts for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper which showed they plummeted by nearly £330 million in the first year of the pandemic.

The vast exodus of passengers from the railways triggered an increase in Scottish Government funding to cover the losses which raised public spending on the two franchises by two-thirds to more than £900 million in 2020-21.

ScotRail lost as much as 95 per cent of its passengers at the start of the pandemic in 2020 but kept a minimum of two-thirds of its services running to ensure key workers such as hospital staff could still travel.

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A series of lockdowns restricted passengers to essential travel only, including most people having to stay within their council area.

ScotRail passenger numbers fell by up to 95 per cent during pandemic lockdowns. Picture: John Devlin

ScotRail’s accounts, for the year to March 2021, revealed income from passengers tumbled by 85 per cent from £360m to £54m.

Caledonian Sleeper, which reduced its Scotland-London services, saw ticket sales fall by four fifths from £26m to £6m.

The closure of the club cars on its trains is believed to have led to retail sales also dropping from £670,000 to £32,000 – a 95 per cent reduction.

ScotRail’s losses after tax fell from £56m to £26m, while Caledonian Sleeper’s were down from £4.6m to £3.9m.

Closure of the Caledonian Sleeper's club cars during the pandemic significantly cut retail revenue. Picture: Jeff Holmes/Shutterstock

However, ScotRail said its income had been boosted by the extra Scottish Government Covid funding under “emergency measures agreements” also covering the start of the pandemic at the end of the 2019-20 financial year.

This support increased from £526m to £854m, while Caledonian Sleeper’s went up from £15m to £48m.

ScotRail will be taken over by ministers in April when Dutch state railways’ offshoot Abellio’s franchise will be ended three years early because of disagreements over past performance levels.

ScotRail chief operating officer Ian McConnell said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on businesses across the world, and ScotRail is no different.

“Thanks to emergency Scottish Government support, ScotRail has continued to operate a reliable service for key workers and is now supporting the country as we continue to face challenges from the Omicron variant.

“To build a more sustainable and greener railway for the future and reduce the burden on the taxpayer, we need to change.

"All of us in the railway – management, staff, trade unions, suppliers, and government – need to work together to modernise the railway so that it is fit for the future.”

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A spokesperson for Serco, which operates the Caledonian Sleeper on a 15-year franchise until 2030, said: “The last financial year was challenging for the whole rail industry.

"Caledonian Sleeper was no exception and the service was impacted by Covid with passenger numbers and revenue dropping significantly.

“This resulted in a significant underlying loss for the year to March 2021, despite the emergency measures agreements that are in place with Transport Scotland, and no dividend was paid to the shareholders.

“Since the easing of Covid restrictions, we are now seeing a gradual but steady improvement in passenger numbers and the service has continued to provide an important service between Scotland and London.”

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