The Great British Fares Rip-Off

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

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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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23 responses to “The Great British Fares Rip-Off

  1. x

    and then read,

    Separating track from the rolling stock doesn’t work. Or it does if you are French, fudge it, and shift the railway company’s debt into public debt black-hole. Ideally the railways should have been split up into their pre-nationalisation companies with track and rolling stock belonging to the same company.

    One of the reasons why I am opposed to HST2 is that all that money should go on improving internet infrastructure (HMG and BT total spend something like £3bn on superfast broadband for 90% population, imagine what another £7bn plus all the old analogue bandwidth could do as Korea approaches speeds of 1Gbps) and the other £23billion on the railway we have now. HST2 won’t carry freight and its impact will be tiny compared with the economic impact of the UK being in the premier league of braodband nations.

    • James Daly

      hmmm that EU directive is worrying – could be the start of the slippery slope towards the end of European quality rail services. I guess to eurocrats national rail systems networks are like kryptonite.

      I agree re HST2. As nice and sexy as it is as a project, we don’t need more lines, we need investment in the lines that we have and the trains that run on them. Plus of course improved broadband would make it more possible for more people to work from home, if employers are open minded enough to encourage it. Thus taking some pressure of the transport infrastucture. Is it really necessary to spend 37 hours a week in an office when 90% of your time is spent sending and responding to emails?

      • x

        There are behavioural and societal reasons for a work place. But as many become desensitised to the need for physical face to physical face contact in most societal transactions as that need is supplanted by the new need for instant contact to a widely dispersed set the workplace (for white collar work) is rendered redundant. (Not for nothing is technology like the mobile phone termed social wormholes.) The company I used to work for one of the largest contingents of tele-workers in Europe. Lets face it you can’t really scive off with modern technology! Further if you look to how many (leading) companies look at the office space (hot desking, leased buildings to furniture, supported by contract cleaners, caterers, secuirty staff, etc.) many obviously regard the office building as a liability (on their balance sheets.) As a child of the seventies I have grown up with this vision, but as with most forecasts it has taken longer than some thought to come about. I regard HST2 in the same vein as those buildings constructed in the late 60s whose owners and architects didn’t think too much about how quickly the car would replace public transport and so ended up with a white elephant.

  2. x

    The model of railway efficiency is the Swiss system. Government owned lines. Private lines. Shared running rights. Buses where rail doesn’t make economic sense.

  3. James Daly

    Swiss Rail is bloody brilliant. I travelled on it years ago in Geneva, and it left a very favourable impression on me.

  4. x

    Switzerland has an area of 16,000 sq miles and 12,600 miles of railway. All clean. All run to time. And many of the regional railways perform their own maintenance providing high end work for technicians and artisans.

    The UK has an area of 94,000 sq miles and 10,000 miles of railway. Not very clean. Don’t run to time. And the railways often provide work for German technicians.

    By my reckoning we are some 109,000 miles of railway short! 🙂

    • James Daly

      really? wow, that’s quite some ratio. I guess our sq mile to railway ratio would be higher without the Beeching cuts, but then again some of the branch lines were a bit silly. Even now, my train stops in places that are practically small hamlets. Some stations I have travelled through for years, I’ve never seen a soul get on or off.

  5. Edna Cahill

    If you think rail fares are high, you should try Wightlink and Red Funnel; rip off? Unless you swim the Solent or invest in your own landing craft !


  6. pompeydoomcrew

    I read this article the other day and if I’m honest I’m not 100% convinced that renationalisation (Not sure thats a word or if I’ve just made it up!) of the current rail system is necessarily the only way to improve the rail network. The biggest problem as I see it is the fact that that for a private sector to work there needs to be competition however when it comes to rail almost all areas are monopolised.

    Taking one route that we know well as an example Portsmouth to London Waterloo Via Guildford, The only company running that is South West Trains twice an hour therefore they can charge whatever they want, If however that changed to say 4 trains an hour but 1 was run by Southern, 1 By South West Trains and the other 2 by say Virgin and a London Based Firm and they all had control over what they charged it could in theory be the answer… Say for example SWT charged £50, Southern £49.50, The London Based £47.50 & Virgin £45 people would then choose to go with Virgin as it’s cheapest forcing the others to either match or more likely undercut to get people back on board.. much like on the high street when shops undercut each other to get your business. Obviously it would eventually plateau at a constant price say £35 then they would have to do other things to get you on board, for example people that commute to to London mon-fri they could do it that for every 4 days you travel the 5th is free or something so you get a few of free days a month etc…

    I’m not saying that this is likely or even particularly the answer but the way the only way for the current private capitalist system to work in the publics favour is if there is competition and no monopolies.

    • James Daly

      I see what you mean about competition. Actually, what we have with the rail system as it is, is privatisation with all of the worst bits and none of the best bits. With certain companies given franchise monopolies, they can charge whatever they want as you rightly state. If you live in a and need to get to b, 90% of the time you can only use train company x, or walk. I’m not quite sure though how it would work having several companies running down the same line, it would need a lot of regulation to keep it running smoothly, and the logistics of different companies charging different prices via the same ticket offices and machines would be confusing.

      ie, its a bit of a muddle!

      • pompeydoomcrew

        I do think that large parts of the logistics would take some implementing, but as for tickets you could probably have it like at airports for example where each company has a window/desk & say a ticket machine for each dedicated company (or however many are needed as regards the size of the station). I mean all of this really is pointless conjecture because no company will willingly give up their monopolies. The biggest issue I see is that our Rail setup is kind of in between the privatised Capitalist system and the nationalised system i.e. theres only ever 1 company running routes (like a nationalised railway 1 company running all the rails) but they are run for self profit with no competition as required for a true private sector.

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