Tag Archives: British rail

The Great British Fares Rip-Off

English: Southern Class 313/2 unit 313205 stan...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sure those of you who live in the UK have heard all about the never-ending increases in train fares, which have continuted with another hike from this week. My weekly train fare from Chichester to Portsmouth is now £28.90 – that’s an increase of £2.10, or almost 8%. For a journey that takes an average of 25 minutes. At a time when the cost of everything – food, energy, etc – is going up, and wages are standing still or worse going down. I now spend more on train travel to work than I do on food each month.

It’s not even as if we get a decent service for it. Most mornings I board trains that are overcrowded, with no toilets, and seats that seem to have all the padding of one layer of cardboard. The trains being used on the Brighton to Portsmouth line are often renovated Class 313 rolling stock (seen above), which are actually over 35 years old! So much for our inflated fares paying for investment… I think we are quite entitled to ask where our money is going, and how huge increases can be justified.

If anyone doesn’t travel on trains, I cannot stress enough to not believe the PR that the train companies spout. There are more cancellations, delays etc than they claim, but they use all kinds of ruses to massage their figures. Often, if a train is more than 10 minutes late, or whatever the cut-off time is, it will be cancelled. You will then see the train you hoped to catch zoom past, empty and out of service. Or the train might terminate a couple of stops down from its final destination. And the amount of times I have checked train times online and they looked fine, only to get to the station and find that there are cancellations and delays. Does anyone think they are trying to give them impression that all is well, when in fact it is not? I’ve tried to find out some more about the business behind Southern – my carrier of no-choice – but their website is a complete baffle, and their parent company Govia‘s website is minimalist to say the least. Anyone would think that they don’t want people to know how much money they are making!

Only a complete delusion artist would attempt to argue that privatising the railways has been succesful. Sucessive Governments hoped, in a Rumsfeldian manner, that investment would make them blossom, competition would bring efficiency, and with the railways off the Government’s balance sheet, the way would be free for big business to gain. It just hasn’t worked, aside from the ideological arguments. Exposing such a crucial part of the nation’s transport infrastructure to commercial forces has resulted in exploitation rather than investment and improvement.

The difference between rail travel in Britain and on the continent is startling. The DB in germany is a model of efficiency – cheap, fast, reliable, clean and comfortable. DB is operated as a commercial venture, but 100% owned by the German government – hence the Government has input into services, fares etc. Apparently, however, there is a deabte ongoing in Germany over privatisation. The example of British Railways since privatisation has to scream one word – DON’T! The Dutch NS is owned by the Dutch Government, and the French SNCF is also state owned. All are vastly superior to the British Rail system.

Trains should be a service, provided for people to go about their working lives at the lowest cost possible. The spectre of commuters – many facing years of pay freezes and cuts – facing fare hikes of up to 10% is galling, whilst shareholders earn very nice profits for doing absolutely nothing.

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Railways: £8bn investment but soaring prices

It’s been a strange couple of days for news regarding Britain’s rail network.

Yesterday we heard that fares will be going up yet again, and in an extremely complex pricing system, it is not immediately clear which fares will be going up, nor by how much. What is clear, is that the Government has little control and the franchise companies are free to exploit the passenger as much as they like. Prices are extortionate as it is. This is ridiculous in a time when we are supposed to be trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

And as if by magic, today – less than 24 hours after that bad news – the Government has announced that the rail network will be receiving £8bn of investment. This will include 2,000 new carriages to ease overcrowing, and improvements to some lines. But with such a creaking system, £8bn will not go very far. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the profits that the operating companies enjoy. Overall Rail journeys have dipped slightly in the last year, which is hardly surprising given the ever-increasing prices. The sad fact is, that thanks to Thatcherite free market ideology, the Government has next to no control over such a vital part of this country’s infrastructure.

As I have documented on this blog before, most European rail networks are run as a national operation, and are much more frequent, efficient, punctual, safer and cheaper than in Britain. But for some reason, flying in the face of all this evidence, the argument ran in Britain that the rail network needed private enterprise to work. Privatisation hasn’t unleashed a ‘golden age of investment’, rather a dark age of shareholder exploitation, laziness and contempt for the customer. The same argument also runs for local buses too.

The fares will go up in January (a matter of weeks), but passengers will have to wait years to see the improvements (if at all).

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