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The Railway Network Eats Itself

Despite being a car driver first and foremost, I would from time to time like to use our railway network. The idea that I could travel a long distance, arrive refreshed and hire at car at the destination appeals to me, especially with our rotten, crowded roads. Sadly, there are too many reasons why I don’t. I’ll take the car every time.

The Railway Spokesman Repeats Himself

Railway fares have just been increased by a massive 3.4% and rail users are rightly up in arms. On the television news the other day some bigwig from The Rail Delivery Group referred to ‘decades of under investment’ in the rail system. How many times are they going to trot that one out? You might just as well have a parrot as a spokesperson.

The next few years are going to see improvements right across the country,” the rail bloke said, yet despite all the taxpayers money and commuter contributions from season tickets and the like we are still apparently using rolling stock that’s forty years old. How can that be? Every time there’s an increase railway users hear how much better things will be in the future thanks to all this investment. Well, it’s the future now and rail users are still being packed onto often late trains in carriages that Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have thought outmoded.

The Railway In Europe

When the railway system in the UK was privatised, along with, over time, the Utilities, it was supposed to herald a bright new dawn of cheap and plentiful power and a public transport infrastructure that delivered on service and price. Also incidentally, it enabled government to effectively wash their hands of these inconvenient troublesome industries. Well, everyone who pays a bill today knows how that turned out.

In France, which nationalised their railway industry in 1938, fares cost a fraction of UK prices and the system, which I have used myself, works well. In fact, Britain is the most expensive country for rail travel in Europe by quite some margin. I’m not suggesting that these foreign johnnies do a better job; I don’t know. No doubt they too have their transport issues but I’d guess that Euro railroad riders, first and foremost, prefer cheap fares to terminal stations built like palaces or vanity railway projects like HS2, which is going to hoover up our money more than perhaps we can imagine. Just wait and see.

The Railway Eats Itself

There’s a limit to the national patience and I suspect it is stretched to breaking point. Commuters whose livelihood depends on getting to work by train may well start to think about alternatives. Would be casual users like me don’t understand the labyrinthine ticket and pricing system. There may be ways to travel economically but frankly, after a just a short period of trawling websites, one loses the will to live.

It is just so much easier to use the car. Door to door; who could ask for more?

Officialdom argues that the railways are more popular than ever. I would suggest it just seems that way because there are more people than ever. I can see a scenario when the railway will start to price itself beyond the means of many. I’m not an especial fan of a nationalised industry but that ultimately may be the only way to give rail users a square deal.

And don’t get me started on the buses…

Public transport is not public transport if the public can’t afford to use it. Geoff Maxted

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