With delays here and cancellations there, why are we paying so much to travel by train?

It’s the same thing every year. Big Ben chimes midnight, fireworks go off, we spend a day welcoming in the new year and then it’s back to reality to an almighty bang when the rail fares once again rise, and we all ask ourselves ‘what exactly are we paying for’?

Year after year, the price of rail travel has been increasing and passengers can do nothing but grin and bear it. We have places to be and we are constantly being told to use public transport and do our bit for the environment but yet we are having to pay more in order to do so. Between 2010 and 2019, ticket prices have risen by a massive 37% with an average yearly increase of 3.2% and this year they have risen by another 2.7%.

Every year, we hear the same thing. We are constantly being told that the fares go back into the rail industry, but after yet another year of strikes, delays, cancellations, overcrowding and timetable changes, commuters are left asking are we ever actually going to see this money being put to good use. Twitter user ‘Learn On The Train’ is an annual ticket holder for the Brighton to London Service, who will be paying £4,980 for the ticket this year, keeps track of every train they get and whether or not it’s on time. On December 20, 2019, they stated that out of 1736 trains taken, only 513 of them had been on time and that it had been 62 train journeys since the last on time service. Why are people having to pay so much for a service that doesn’t meet expected standards?

Talking on BBC Breakfast on January 2nd, 2020, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the government was committed to ‘putting passengers first’. He told the programme that the fare increases would allow for investment in the railway service that would see great improvements stating that ‘these changes are going to take time, but I think people will see things moving in the right direction’.

Transport Focus, an independent watchdog, has stated that 47% of train journeys are rated as satisfactory value for money by passengers. David Sidebottom, the watchdog’s director said that ‘after a year of pretty poor performance in some areas, passengers just want a consistent day-to-day service they can rely on and a better chance of getting a seat’. Sidebottom also encourages passengers who have faced delays to claim compensation in order to ‘offset’ the cost of fare rises.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions for Rail Delivery Group, said that rail companies are investing in improving journeys whilst holding the fare increases below inflation, stating that 2020 will see a thousand new weekly services and a thousand more carriages added to the fleet. Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said that ‘There is a record level of investment going into the railway at the moment. For people who do suffer from poor punctuality in areas of the country, that could be for a variety of different reasons, we apologise. We are looking at trying to make punctuality much better across the board’.

I travel on the railway quite regularly on some of the country’s main lines, travelling from Exeter to London a number of times a year, and from this I have seen the worst of the rail industry. I have seen the overcrowding at Waterloo Station in the morning rush hour as trains are delayed and cancelled, I have sat on the floor in the space by the toilets between Exeter St David’s and Bristol Temple Meads because there wasn’t enough carriages on the service and I have seen a train from Exeter to London be reduced to standing room only less than half way through a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Why is it still like this when we are paying so much more for our tickets?

Across Europe, rail travel is much cheaper, and it would appear that the journeys are also much smoother. So why are commuters in the UK being charged so much for a service with so many problems? For example, passengers commuting between Velletri and Rome (a 23-mile journey) pay £442 a year for a season ticket, whilst travellers commuting the same distance between Wokingham and London Waterloo face having to pay more than £3,000 a year. A similar amount in Germany would purchase a travel card allowing travel across the entire rail network.

As we move into another year and have to face paying more for our rail travel, is it really any surprise that commuters are becoming increasingly unhappy? It would appear that we can only hope that we are actually going to start to see some changes in the railway service. People want to do their bit and choose the more environmentally friendly mode of transport, but they also want a seat, get to their destination on time and not be charged an extortionate amount for the privilege.   


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