Rail passenger numbers grew very strongly from the 1880s as the network and services expanded. (The data for 'ordinary passengers' captures single and return journeys only, while that for ‘total passengers’ includes travel on fixed-term passes.) Apart from a temporary dip around the end of the First World War because of staff and coal shortages, patronage climbed steeply until the 1920s, when the impact of competition from motor cars and buses began to be felt. A much more dramatic decline during the depression of the early 1930s was followed by a sharp rise during the Second World War as troop movements and petrol rationing resulted in a peak of almost 39 million trips in 1943/44. The next half-century saw significant long-term decline, apart from a brief revival in the 1950s driven by the expansion and electrification of Wellington’s suburban network. After hitting a low point of around 10 million journeys in 1993, rail patronage has revived strongly, reaching 26 million in 2014/15, thanks mainly to rapid commuter growth in Auckland.
Sources: Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives; New Zealand Railways Corporation; Tranz Rail; Toll Holdings; Auckland Transport
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