THE number of people travelling by train in Oxfordshire grew even as the recession first began to bite, according to newly-released figures.

In 2008-9, Oxford station was the start or end of 5,491,802 journeys, up 16.5 per cent on 2007-8, when 4,076,814 journeys were recorded, according to the Office for Rail Regulation.

The biggest percentage increase in custom came at Appleford station, just as train operator First Great Western was preparing to make controversial cuts – since reversed – in off-peak trains calling there from last May.

In 2008-9, 10,814 journeys were recorded, up 32.8 per cent on the previous year, while at nearby Culham, where cuts were also made last May, 60,146 journeys began or ended there, up 28.4 per cent from 2007-8.

Dr Angela Jones, one of the passengers who campaigned against the cuts at Appleford, said: “The figures show a very high usage of the station, given the village’s population, and people’s commitment to the train service.

“I would be very surprised, given the numbers I see on the platform each morning, if we didn’t get a similar rise in the current year’s figures.

“It’s clear there was no justification for the cuts. Appleford, Culham and Radley are all well used, usage is up at all three, and this strengthens the argument for maintaining and increasing the number of trains calling.”

FGW spokesman Dan Panes said: “The services we initially reduced at Appleford were at specific times of the day, while the ORR figures are for all passengers passing through the stations, so it’s impossible to make direct comparisons.

“When we made the decision, fewer customers had been using Appleford since 2005 and, at the time, the ORR figures backed up these findings.

“Even with the sharp increase in custom we saw last year, only 200 more people per year are using the station than in 2005. By speaking to the local community, we were able to pinpoint increases in demand, even before the figures were available, and reverse the decision.”

Booming business on the Oxford-Bicester Town branch line will be used by the Oxford-Bicester Rail Action Group to help press the Government to increase the minimum guaranteed number of trains serving Bicester Town and Islip when the line transfers from FGW to Chiltern Railways next year to become part of a second Oxford-London route.

Bicester Town saw 60,638 journeys, up 17 per cent from 51,902 a year earlier, in part thanks to extra trains funded by the county, reversing cuts made in 2006.

At Islip, custom was up by 20 per cent, to 17,062 journeys from 14,120, though still short of the 18,988 seen in 2004-5.

OBRAG chairman Dr Ian East said the growth had been maintained after the end of the counting period, with FGW telling the group that in the 12 months to last September, there were 19,833 journeys at Islip and 77,258 at Bicester Town. He said: “These figures show the remarkable effect of the four extra trains a day.

“Demand at Islip, in particular, is likely to rise dramatically with the new destinations possible via Evergreen3.

“We must keep the extra trains at both stations.”

Didcot Parkway maintained its position as the county’s second busiest station, with 2.520,352 journeys in 2008-9, up 4.28 per cent on the previous year’s 2,416,635 journeys, while Banbury retained third place, with 1,614,558 passengers passing through, 10 per cent up from the previous year’s 1,465,985.

On the Cotswold Line, the picture was mixed, with a 25.7 per cent jump in passengers at Hanborough, while custom was flat at Charlbury, although it remains the busiest station between Oxford and Worcester, well ahead of the much larger town of Evesham, in Worcestershire.

Kingham was up 4.8 per cent to 148,178 recorded journeys, continuing the steady growth seen since 2004-5, when 124,462 passengers passed through.

The route also saw the only falls in custom at Oxfordshire stations, with just 1,022 passengers using Finstock, down from 1,095 in 2007-8, meaning it remains it one of the least used stations in England.

Shipton also declined, with 3,050 journeys made, down by 22 per cent from a year earlier, continuing a downward trend since 5,513 passengers passed through in 2005-6.