The impact of planned disruptions on rail passenger demand

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, mode - bus, ridership - behaviour, ridership - demand, planning - surveys


Planned engineering disruptions, Rail demand, Awareness, Bus replacement, Rail diversions, Stated intentions, Revealed preference, Choice modelling


Disruptions to rail journeys are experienced by rail passengers on a daily basis throughout the world, with the impacts on passengers ranging from minimal to major. Such disruptions can be categorised as unplanned (e.g. extreme weather, vandalism, accidental damage to lines and power supplies etc.) or planned engineering-based disruptions. This paper focuses upon the latter, providing a valuable contribution to an area which is largely under researched, particularly in comparison to unplanned disruptions. Emphasis is placed upon understanding how passengers react to planned engineering-based disruptions: do they continue their journey (using the modified service); use other stations or routes that are not affected; make the journey on another day; travel to another destination; or simply not make that journey. Consideration is also given to how being aware or unaware may impact on passenger behaviour and whether disruptions of this type have any long run impacts over and above the short run. Ultimately, passenger behaviour translates into what can be substantial financial impacts for rail operators. The paper considers this, with the development of choice models based on both revealed preference (RP) and stated intentions (SI) data from a large scale face-to-face survey of rail users (7000+) and a smaller online panel of rail and non-rail users (500). These are used to estimate demand impacts resulting from planned engineering-based disruptions. Some of the key findings to emerge include: (1) Bus replacement services for disrupted rail services are inferior to rail diversions, with around three times more rail demand lost with bus replacement than with rail diversion; (2) The level of awareness prior to arriving at the station does not seem to have a large impact on the pattern of behavioural response, this may reflect the increased information available from mobile devices; (3) There is some evidence to suggest that rail travellers see planned disruptions as a ‘fixed cost’; and (4) Guaranteed connections have a benefit, to the tune of around 9 min, whilst rail travellers have higher disutility from longer periods of disruption to the extent of around 22 min.


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