Leading article: Bad trip

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The Independent Online

As everyone knows, Christmas is the time of year when people travel to be with families, friends and loved ones. It is also the time of year when many of us become acquainted with the true state of our transport infrastructure. It is not a sight to fill the heart with festive cheer.

There will be severe congestion as some 18 million vehicles take to the roads today. But those on trains will be just as badly served. Those geniuses at Network Rail have cleverly scheduled extensive maintenance works to take place over the busy Christmas period, delaying services by hours and necessitating replacement bus services. Meanwhile the private franchise operators are performing their usual trick of advertising tantalisingly cheap tickets but then mysteriously offering customers much more expensive ones when people ring up to book them.

It does not have to be this way. Inter-city public transport is efficient and good value throughout most of Europe even at Christmas. But here in Britain decades of underinvestment in the rail network, the pig-headed refusal of the present government to subsidise properly the system and build more high-speed lines, and the apparent inability of ministers to control the profiteering of private franchise operators, have turned travelling at peak times into a journey through several circles of hell.

We may have a high-speed rail link to the continent that can take customers to Brussels in under two hours, but allowing people to get home for Christmas in a reasonable and timely manner is evidently asking too much of the fatuous controllers of our domestic transport system.