Newly released figures show a marked drop in passenger numbers on the Oxenholme to Windermere ‘Lakes Line’ branch railway last year.

And Robert Talbot, chair of the Lakes Line User Group (LLUG), said while a fall in usage was expected as the figures covered a period when the line was closed for several weeks due to operational problems, the figures were a serious worry as passenger numbers were a key factor in decisions on future investment in the line.

The figures, which were released on Tuesday and cover the period from April 2018 to March 2019, show that while passenger numbers at Oxenholme, where the line joins the West Coast Main Line, show a rise of 9.3 per cent, there is a drop of at least 11 per cent at every other station served by the line.

Passenger numbers at Windermere fell by 11. 2 per cent from 421,658 to 374,414, while at Kendal they fell from 208,698 to 172,958, a dip of 17.1 per cent.

The worrying fall is even more marked at the two smaller stations on the line, with numbers at Staveley dropping 20.5 per cent to 32,538 and passengers using Burneside falling from 18,048 to just 14,112, a dip of 21.8 per cent.

Mr Talbot pointed out that while this is relatively small in general terms, with the drop in numbers at Staveley effectively representing a drop of just two return journeys a day, the consequences with regard to future use remained a concern.

“The overriding worrying point is that it will be these latest statistics currently available which will be the benchmark for any future investment for the line, and not those of four years ago,” he said.

“If we are aiming to get the electrification and the passing loop to allow more frequent services back on the agenda, the drop in passenger numbers won’t help the case.”

Mr Talbot added that it was hoped those charged with such decisions would examine the wider picture and look favourably on the investment issue in future months. 

And in a communication on behalf of the group to under fire franchise holder Northern, he said much of the blame fell to the Department for Transport for switching the line from TransPennine Express custodianship to Northern, who he said in his view had provided consistently poor levels of service.

In reply to LLUG’s concerns, the franchise holder’s regional director Chris Jackson said he had been “very encouraged” by Northern’s eight per cent overall passenger growth in 2019,

And he added that “with a brand new fleet of trains and improvements to stopping patterns,” he expected confidence in the service to grow and passenger numbers to rise accordingly.