The number of passengers using trains in the north-east has dropped by more than two million in the past five years, according to a new report.
The Office of Rail and Road has released the figures, based on an advanced model showing passenger flows throughout the UK.
Across 11 north-east train stations, including Laurencekirk, Stonehaven, Aberdeen and Elgin, the data shows 2,075,328 fewer passengers entering and exiting stations compared with the same figure five years ago.
The highest fall was reported at Aberdeen Railway Station, which saw 1,126,504 fewer passengers based on ticket sales compared with the 2014-15 financial year.
Records show a total of 2,616,142 passengers used the city station over the 2018-19 period.
The next highest drop was at Dyce, which logged a 465,196 reduction in passengers.
The smallest change was at Portlethen, down 10,430 over the same period, with 46,722 people using it over the 2018-19 financial year.
It is a different situation to Scotland’s busiest railway stations, with Glasgow Central, Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley all reporting increases in passengers, with rises of 13.23%, 1.46% and 13.11% respectively.
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However, the Office of Rail and Road said the data does have some limitations.
The numbers are based on ticket sales and do not take into consideration tickets with no end-to-end destinations included, concessionary travel, tickets sold at non-railway point of sales or those featuring group destinations.
Ticketless data is also not included, although the report says: “As more stations have become gated over time, and rail operators focus on revenue protection activities, this is likely to be less of an issue than in the past in contributing to a shortfall in journeys.”
A spokesman for ScotRail said the figures reflected improvement works carried out on the Aberdeen to Inverness over the past two years.
Fewer trains were running when work was carried out to dual the line and passengers using the service were transported on buses instead.
He added: “The Aberdeen to Inverness improvement works were a huge success and are playing a critical role in delivering a better service for our customers in the north-east as we continue to invest in Scotland’s railway.
“The December 2019 timetable delivered significant improvements for customers and we are looking forward to making even more enhancements to take full advantage of the infrastructure improvements that have been delivered.”
Mike Rumbles, north-east MSP and Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: “Under the current franchise agreement, Scotrail has been plagued by poor management, delays and cancellations.
“People just want a reliable service that gets them from A to B without having to rush to get a seat.”
Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Liam Kerr, who has long campaigned for the addition of new stations at locations such as Newtonhill and Cove, said: “It’s very concerning to see such a huge drop in passenger numbers using trains in the north-east.
“If we want to see more people travel by train then the SNP Government must look again at its offering in the north-east.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald added: “The ultimate test of public transport is whether the public choose to use it or take the car – and on these figures, Scotland’s railways are failing the test.
“Until the train can compete with the car between Aberdeen and the Central Belt, passenger numbers in the north-east will continue to fall.”
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Any suggestion that the fall in patronage in the north-east is due to a lack of investment is misleading.
“The Scottish Government’s investment has enabled the delivery of hourly local services in the north-east from Inverurie to Montrose and the introduction of refurbished InterCity trains improving connectivity between Aberdeen to Scotland’s other cities.
“The investment has also delivered infrastructure to allow a significant step forward in increasing services, with new peak time services across Aberdeen and improved frequency of service between Aberdeen, Dyce and Inverurie – up to four services per hour during peak times.
“A new £14 million station at Kintore is also on schedule to open this coming May.
“ScotRail continues to be closely monitored by Transport Scotland.”