Rail fare rises are a legacy of decades of underinvestment

 

Travel Correspondent

Barely had the rail fare increase for England and Wales next year been revealed, than a pro-public transport pressure group rushed out a news release condemning the rises.

You could tell it had been prepared in advance because it was headed “Campaigners condemn rail fare rise of x per cent”. 

In their understandable haste to criticise “this annual fiasco” of price hikes, they had neglected to replace the x with 3.5, that being RPI plus one per cent, the average increase stipulated by the Government.

Yet that moment of forgetfulness inadvertently went to the heart of the great railway debate. Whatever x happens to be, it will be regarded as excessive by many commuters, business travellers and people who simply want to escape for the weekend. They see any increase as an unwarranted penalty for using an environmentally responsible form of transport. At worst, they argue, fares should be capped at their present painful levels to make the train progressively more attractive than the car. Yet by imposing above-inflation fare rises, the tide will surely go in the wrong direction.

I have sympathy with that argument, but the rail debate needs to be seen in a wider context. For half a century, successive post-war Governments connived to neglect and substantially dismantle Britain’s railway network. Yet in the past decade, the decline in passenger numbers has dramatically reversed, with roughly 50 per cent more passengers on a network that has acquired precious little extra capacity. 

While High Speed 2 is endlessly debated, the system is chronically overcrowded at rush hours and, increasingly, at weekends. Both the Coalition and Labour before it recognised that price is a blunt but effective instrument for squeezing out excessive demand. 

Increasing a peak-time Birmingham-London ticket on Virgin Trains by £3 to £85 will, at the margin, divert demand. But those frustrated travellers won’t necessarily end up on the M40 or abandon their journey with "can't pay, won't go" exasperation. They can simply opt for a 20-minute longer journey on Chiltern Railways for about £63, or a 40-minute slower trip on London Midland for about £50. And then there’s always the coach: when was the last time you heard a Megabus or National Express passenger furious about fares?

If the good work recommended by Sir Roy McNulty’s report on the woefully high costs of Britain’s railway bears fruit, then one day x may finally dwindle to zero. Meanwhile, we travellers will continue to complain as we trundle around this crowded (but thankfully compact) nation, making the best we can of a lousy transportational bequest.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links