David Howarth: Trains are so unreliable

Passenger's view
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The Independent Online

I live in north Cambridge and commute to Westminster daily. It's about 20 minutes by bus to Cambridge station, 45 minutes by train to King's Cross, and then around another 20 minutes on the Underground.

Commuting by train is a fantastically variable experience. You can go weeks and weeks where everything goes well; then, suddenly, you can have a string of nightmare journeys. When it snowed a few months back I had one journey that took five hours.

The greater issue, of course, is cost. My second-class ticket includes a Travelcard for the Underground that covers zones one to three, and the annual charge now stands at just over £4,600. When I was elected to Parliament in 2005 it was under £4,000. This rate of inflation, which outstrips other forms of travel, is absolutely terrible.

I've talked at times to the chief executive of First Capital Connect, the company that runs this line. It's been made clear to me that government policy has little to do with making rail travel affordable to people on ordinary salaries, or simply more pleasant. Rather, the policy is about how many people can be made to fit in carriages, and reducing the subsidy on rail travel. There's nothing green about that. We need to recognise the environmental importance of rail travel. I'm in favour of high-speed rail links and so on but there is a need to focus on the less glamorous day-to-day task of providing an affordable, reliable service.

David Howarth is the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge