New Merseyrail Trains General Shot At Station
A CGI showing one of the replacement fleet trains

Merseyrail slumps to loss on low passenger numbers

Sarah Townsend

Liverpool’s local rail network posted a pre-tax loss of £2.5m for the year to 9 January, down from an £18.1m profit the previous year as the effects of the pandemic hit.

The company’s latest accounts filed with Companies House show that turnover declined to £150m in 2020 from £175.1m in the year-earlier period, attributed to sharply falling passenger numbers as a result of Covid-19.

The travel restrictions placed on the public caused passenger journeys across Merseyside to drop by up to 90% during the lockdowns, and Merseyrail slashed the number of trains per day to around 350, according to the filing.

Pre-pandemic, the company operated around 600 midweek services and 340 on Sundays. Some 110,000 passenger journeys were made each weekday – totalling 30 million each year.

Merseyrail said in a statement included in the filing: “Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the directors have closely monitored the results of the group and the impact the pandemic has had on UK public transport and the wider economy.

“While the impact of Covid-19 evolves we continued to consider several scenarios and the impacts on passenger revenue, costs, profits and cash flow.

“Since the start of the first national lockdown for the UK, passenger revenue has fallen dramatically. This had started to recover slightly from mid-2020 with the easing of the national lockdown, however, passenger revenue was much lower than what it was in 2019 and the directors continue to monitor passenger revenue on a daily basis.”

However, Merseyrail intends to push ahead with outstanding expansion and improvement plans for the network this year, including introducing a new fleet to replace the current four-decades-old trains; rolling out smart ticketing systems for passengers; examining further devolution opportunities, for example with regard responsibilities for station operation, maintenance and renewal, and deliver increased passenger growth across the Liverpool City Region.

Merseyrail last January unveiled the replacement fleet of 52 trains that the city region combined authority bought from Swiss manufacturer Stadler for £460m. The purchase was part of a wider £500m investment strategy plans to improve and upgrade the partially underground light rail network.

“The local nature of the service means Merseyrail is very reliant on the regional economy,” the filing noted in a statement about market risks.

“Retaining and increasing patronage remains a priority, and the Merseyrail leadership team are closely monitoring all relevant business KPIs that include operational, commercial and finance, customer and people [factors] to ensure that any necessary remedial action is taken in response to changing economic conditions.”

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