New figures show that rail traffic has fallen to mid-19th century levels as a result of the pandemic.
According to the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), more than 400 million fewer journeys were made between April and June than in the same period in 2019.
Only 35 million trips were made in the quarter of this year.
Passenger sales between April and June were £ 184 million, just 6.9% of the £ 2.7 billion for the same period last year.
The figures from the Ministry of Transport (DfT) show that demand has since returned to around 38% of its normal level.
Graham Richards, ORR director of rail planning and performance, said, “This unprecedented drop in passenger numbers, the largest since the mid-19th century, has clearly had an impact on both rail usage and ticket revenue.
“These numbers include the time of the lockdown and fortunately we are now seeing a slow increase in passenger numbers.
“ORR has worked closely with the industry, and continues to do so, to ensure that the necessary health and safety advice and guidelines are in place.
“Rail is one of the safest ways to travel, and our inspectors continue to monitor the reality on the ground to ensure people have confidence that they can travel safely.”
Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions at Rail Delivery Group, said, “With the majority of company bosses planning to work from home beyond the pandemic, rail companies are keen to work with the government to introduce flexible season tickets as they become more Motivate people to get back on trains safely.
“The tariff reform is an integral part of wider industry proposals to enable train operators to better respond to the rapidly evolving needs of their local customers.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, warned that “urgent radical steps” are needed to support public transport.
He said: “There has been welcome government support to the rail industry, but more needs to be done as some services such as Grand Central and Hull Trains are on the sidelines and the rail supply chain is now also shedding jobs.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), said: “The daily commute may have changed forever, so it is now more important than ever that people use our railways for recreational activities rather than getting into cars. “
“The electric rail is cleaner and safer for our environment, has many health benefits and helps to combat climate change.
“It is important that the government encourage people to use rail transport in a safe and responsible manner.”
A transport ministry spokeswoman said: “The sharp drop in passenger numbers reflects people who, at the start of the pandemic, acted on government orders to travel only when necessary. This will help fight the virus and ensure that there is room for key workers.
“We took immediate action and invested billions to keep the services people depend on, protect frontline jobs, and make sure the railways are ready to support our national recovery.”