A record year for train travel in the West Midlands has led to renewed calls for greater Government investment in the region's ageing network.

Despite poor reliability from operators and Network Rail, new figures released by transport bosses show passenger numbers increased by seven per cent to 29.3 million in 2004/2005.

The fifth year-on-year increase in rail patronage was revealed in the annual statistical survey by Centro, the region's public transport promotion and development body.

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A Centro spokesman said: "It comes despite the continuing poor performance of local rail services, particularly those operated by Central Trains.

"Passenger numbers on local Centro-supported services also grew faster than long-distance services."

For years, local politicians have complained that investment decisions are often biased towards London commuter services, even though passenger growth in the West Midlands outstrips that of the South-East.

"The fact that we are seeing such high levels of growth despite the fall in reliability shows there is massive demand for regional rail services," said Coun Gary Clarke, chairman of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, which sets policy for Centro.

Last year, it was revealed public transport had become the dominant mode of travel during the Birmingham rush hour for the first time - with morning peak passengers on buses, trains and trams slightly out-numbering motorists.

Centro said outside the rush hour the number of people arriving at Birmingham city centre rail stations had also increased.

Shopping developments such as the Bullring are believed to be behind the increase - although evening patronage also increased significantly, to its highest level in five years.

Coun Clarke (Con Walsall Streetly) added: "All this shows our plans are on the right track and underlines the growing importance of rail services and other modes of public transport in tackling congestion in the region."

Centro's annual statistics also show growth in the use of park and ride schemes and in sales of multi-operator bus and rail tickets.

The Centro spokesman added that there had been a stemming of the decline in the take-up of concessionary travel, with around 102 million trips by pass holders in 2004/05.

He said bus patronage had continued to fall in line with national trends but added the West Midlands now has the highest level of bus use of any metropolitan area.