It’s easy to look back on the train services of yesteryear with rose-tinted glasses, but were they really that much better? And what about the future of train travel – are those signals pointing up, or down?
I’m old enough to remember British Rail: InterCity 125s; Regional Railways; Weekend First upgrades for £1; even connections being held if your train was late.
But I also remember there being just one direct train a day from my town of Hull to London. It left at some ungodly hour, so most of the time you were on the appalling Pacer ‘railbus’ to Doncaster.
Yet if you were lucky, it was the comfier, older InterCity 125 that pulled up at Doncaster, its turbochargers shrieking as it accelerated.
There I go, starting to think things used to be better. But perhaps I’m wrong…
Lots of things are ‘up’ in relation to trains. Frequency is one – when Passenger Focus looked at frequency of UK trains versus those in seven other European countries, it found Britain had the most frequent service in the short and longer distance bands (we were third in the medium band).
Government spending is another. There are estimates that, despite privatisation, public funding of the railways is three times more than it was under British Rail – in real terms. Some claim the figure is even higher.
Even the government’s own figures show public funding has ballooned from £2.3bn in 1993-4 to £5.2bn in 2008-9 (and both figures are at 2008-9 prices, too). A funny kind of privatisation.
But isn’t spending better than cutbacks? Isn’t it better to be talking about opening lines rather than closing them?
Unfortunately, there’s lots of evidence to show the money hasn’t always been well spent – when the Office of Rail Regulation compared Network Rail with its European counterparts, it found it up to 40% less efficient in terms of how Network Rail spends its money.
The price you pay to travel by train
Unfortunately, fares are also up – by more than inflation. And it’s already been announced that they’ll go even higher next year.
But it’s not as clear cut as it might seem. When Passenger Focus looked at fares in the UK against other European countries, it found Britain’s tickets to be both the cheapest (longer distance advance tickets) and the most expensive (long distance walk-up return tickets).
What do you think? Has the situation improved overall for you? Perhaps things are better, but not by as much as they should be for the money spent?
Since privatisation, I think that train travel in the UK has got:
Worse (64%, 209 Votes)
Better (19%, 62 Votes)
Neither better nor worse (17%, 54 Votes)
Total Voters: 325