The rail companies have scared their profits away

Share

Christmas is coming; the trains are getting packed. Please put a penny in the train companies' hat. It seems the railways are going to rely on charity this year, rather than marketing. They have managed to frighten off many of their potential customers with warnings of service cuts, ticket restrictions and limited seat-reservations. As a result, flight bookings are up by 9 per cent, and the train companies say they have plenty of empty seats, even on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is coming; the trains are getting packed. Please put a penny in the train companies' hat. It seems the railways are going to rely on charity this year, rather than marketing. They have managed to frighten off many of their potential customers with warnings of service cuts, ticket restrictions and limited seat-reservations. As a result, flight bookings are up by 9 per cent, and the train companies say they have plenty of empty seats, even on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas period is crucial in that large numbers of people who do not often travel by train take to the railways to stay with relatives or friends. If they are put off by poor service or worse - by being told at the station that the few seats have been sold already - they are unlikely to use the railways during the rest of the year.

It is surprising, therefore, that almost all the rail network will be shut down on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, just as in the bad old days of British Rail. Two services that will not be shutting down are those serving Heathrow and Gatwick airports - surely there is a clue there as to which form of transport is more attuned to passenger needs.

It is extraordinary that supposedly competitive companies still shut down over this holiday, offering restricted services before and afterward, and then manage to scare so many potential "customers" into the arms of commercial rivals. More depressing is the fact that the train companies are now talking about it being up to a year before they win back the customers - or passengers - they have lost over the past two months. Any self-respecting, dynamic company would be cutting prices and improving services - especially over Christmas - to win them back.

The loss of customers is bad for the environment and will delay the return to higher levels of railway traffic that was one of the beneficial effects of privatisation, helping to keep road congestion lower than it would otherwise have been.

Obviously, we need to be sure that the rail network is safe. But Railtrack and the train operators seem to be making heavy weather of the safety work that needs to be carried out after the October Hatfield derailment.

The Prime Minister apparently ducked when invited recently by Steve Marshall, the new chairman of Railtrack, to "instruct" the rail companies to pull out the stops. Tony Blair knew he would take the blame if anything went wrong. But he will get the blame for the "rail chaos" anyway, however unfairly, so he should have cracked the whip. Rail passengers - not customers, please note - are being let down by the train companies, and Mr Blair should use his powers of persuasion to force them to act in their own long-term interests.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...