/ Travel & Leisure

Update: will the government’s plan fix rail travel?

Train travel

The government has outlined its vision for better rail travel in the UK. But will these proposals genuinely improve train travel for you?

A more reliable train service. More trains across a bigger network. A modernised customer experience. Smart ticketing across all train companies, improved accessibility, better wifi, compensation and redress when things go wrong. The list goes on.

Sounds like a rail utopia, right? Well, it is, in fact, the government’s vision for rail and described as the biggest change since privatisation.

Future of rail

Thousands of people have told us about their hellish experiences travelling on the trains. The Government’s new rail strategy promises to tackle some of the everyday problems passengers face with poor service and overcrowding…

Train overcrowding

We know overcrowding is getting worse with an extra 1.5 million passengers compared to twenty years ago.

One supporter of our rail campaign, Louise, told us:

‘Every morning on my commute I crush myself into strangers’ armpits – that’s if I’m lucky and get on. It hurts your back to stand sometimes as there’s pressure from all sides. I can’t even get my phone from my bag.’

In some places, the rail network is overcrowded and struggling. The government will address this with plans to reopen lost rail links and resurrect some of the 5,000 miles of tracks closed in the late 1960s to try and ease overcrowding.

Talks to reopen five commuter lines have begun and expansions include lines from Okehampton to Exeter and from Portishead to Bristol, a new passenger route through Birmingham and a new link from Ashington and Blyth into Newcastle.

New trains

For those in the North of England, look out for shiny new trains as the government plans to replace every train in a mass overhaul of ageing carriages.

Another campaign supporter Helen told us what it’s like to travel on old trains:

‘These trains are freezing cold in the winter with little or no heating, and in the summer are boiling hot with heating on full blast! The seats are dirty and carriages are generally smelly.’

Better engagement

We’re apparently going to see a real change in the way the Network engages with passengers, working much more closely with local franchises and communities to address problems.

Plans to create new teams with control over Network Rail and individual train companies in each area are underway. This is to make sure rail disruption is better managed and engineering work is coordinated.

To support this there will be a breaking up two of the country’s biggest railway companies to create smaller operators that are more responsive to local passengers’ needs.

Rail ombudsman

Finally, we’ll see a new ‘strong, fair, friendly and independent’ rail ombudsman that we’ve been campaigning for. This is to help give passengers a stronger voice against their train company and not be ignored when things go wrong.

Train tickets

Sick of paper tickets? Train companies have now been given a kick by the government and have a deadline to introduce smart tickets or contactless bank card travel by the end of 2018.

What now?

So what’s the cost of a rail utopia? Well, the government will be spending up to £34.7bn in the five years from 2019 to 2024 to fund a £47.9bn overhaul of the network in England and Wales.

The proposals are certainly a step in the right direction and we’re pleased to see the government address issues that passengers face on a daily basis.

However, while the government has set out how it will address the big issues affecting passengers, we want to see the government move quickly to deliver these changes so that people really feel the benefits.

Update: 5 December 2017

It has been announced that train fares will rise by an average of 3.4% from 2 January 2018. The rise will be the highest since January 2013, which saw a hike of 3.9%.

Regulated fares, like season tickets, and unregulated fares, such as off-peak tickets, will be affected by the increase. In London, transport fares, excluding rail services, have been frozen.

The Retail Price Index (RPI) is used to calculate train ticket price increases. Season tickets were capped at July’s Retail Price index which was 3.6%.

Our Managing Director of Public Markets, Alex Hayman, said:

‘This price hike will be another blow for passengers, many of whom continue to experience cancellations, delays, overcrowding and poor service from train companies.

‘For passengers to genuinely get value for money, they must be able to find the best ticket for their journey, cheaper fares must not be hidden and compensation must be paid where it is owed.’

Do you think train travel in the UK works well? Will you be affected by the ticket increases? Do you think the government’s proposals will fix the rail network? Will you see an old line reopen near you? Is there a line near you that you’d like to see reopened?


I am very interested in the possibility of reopening railway lines that were closed years ago, which could cut down the number of cars going into towns and cities. It’s vital that pollution in cities is reduced, but viable alternatives to cars are needed.

Theyneed sensibly-priced or free car parks. Our local station charges £7 a day – enough to put people off. Even with more train lines we still need decent public transport in cities and towns.

I’ve not parked at the station in town but the daily charge is £2.50, and it’s not far to walk to places where parking is free. in areas where there is more demand for parking, perhaps park & ride is the answer.

But when we all get self-driving cars, they’ll be able to drop us off at the station, then pop back home and take the kids to school, and then on to the supermarket to collect the groceries.

How many could be reopened ?? houses ,works etc. have been built ? Many of the bridges, level crossings are no longer there New roads have used old railway tracks It would be too costly to reopen many old lines A good idea but cost ??

Some are viable propositions because the routes have not been built on, but even there the cost of reconstructing a railway is high.

If a vanity project like HS2 can be made to look “viable” and bulldoze its way through England, I see little difficulty with resurrecting other lines. East West rail – between Oxford, Cambridge and Norwich – seems to be advancing well. Presumably, as when railways were first built, obstacles that might impede them will be removed – just as HS2 will do.

If rail gets traffic off the roads, people and goods – it would be good. It would not be so good if it encourages even more commuting, making very inefficient use of expensive trains and staff. However, to get us out of our very convenient cars it needs to provide attractive fares, particularly to attract groups, such as families.

When I was offered a job, one of the conditions was that employees must normally live within 15 miles of the university, though in exceptional circumstances this could be increased to 20 miles. Some job ads state that employees must live within five miles of where they will work.

Some will claim that this cannot be done, but perhaps it would be better to do our best to work to make it happen. Before we had trains and cars, people did manage to live near where they worked.

With some jobs the places of potential work are wide apart. There is a choice between travelling, moving house with all the accompanied disruption or changing careers.

I’d like to see a government initiative to encourage companies to move away from densely-populated areas with inadequate or over-priced housing to less stressed parts of the country. Helping reduce the housing crisis and inefficient commuting is a gradual and long term process, something short term governments will find difficult to handle. A cross-bench consensus would be needed to set, and commit to maintaining, a policy. I wonder if our politicians are mature enough to set personal ambitions aside and do what is best for the UK?

I’m not sure referring to HS2 as a vanity project is a reasonable assessment of its importance. High speed rail should be a feature throughout the UK, not least because of its environmentally-friendly credentials, but because it will offer a very real and healthy option to air travel.

Much of the “business case” was redacted before publication. Why? Many will wonder why, in a small country, high speed rail has any real potential and why, in the days of increasing electronic communication, we need so much extra-fast travel. If you wish to go from London to Birmingham it will normally occupy a working day. Saving 40 minutes, perhaps, each way might look attractive to some, but in practice it simply reduces a journey, from leaving home to reaching your final destination, from around 3h 40m to 3h. Costing in the time value of this
saving might work for accountants, but in real life for most is a false saving.

Its environmental credentials involve destroying many homes, ancient woodland and natural habitats, apart from unsightly structures, noise, and years of environmentally unfriendly lorries and plant clogging roads and disturbing the landscape.

Were we to aim to reduce road traffic, both commuting, business and leisure travel, and most importantly goods, by investing in rail and terminals, at more conventional (150 mph seems OK) speed and at substantially less cost, i’d support a case. The new HS2 lines don’t even stop at intermediate stations to avoid the need for the many to have to travel into one of the major cities, clogging already oversubscribed commuter services.

I wonder who will afford the premium fares – or will the taxpayer subsidise them to make the books look good? I lay odds that few “ordinary” people will use this transport; it seems designed for a more elite section of the population.

So yes, I think it is a vanity project, and I think the money could be much better spent on more conventional rail projects to much better effect. But that is just my personal view, of course :-).

Some of the proposed time savings are reasonable: Leeds to Birmingham is slashed from 1 hour 58 minutes to just 57 minutes. The East Midlands hub at Toton is 19 minutes from Birmingham. Manchester to Birmingham more than halves from 88 to 41 minutes.

But I’m not sure it’s quite as tangible as that. A lot of the case rests on the idea that the UK is extremely London-centric, and that’s had a number of effects, not least of which is to push property prices way beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Making Manchester and its environs about an hour’s journey from London will have a significant effect on the thinking and perceptions behind businesses. It could also help realise one of your most frequent aspirations – that of getting businesses or workers to move outside of the major conurbations and thus remove the pressure from roads. Surely something to which you would aspire?

Of course, the other major benefit eventually will be to make formerly more remote locations easily reachable, without the mind-numbing tedium of having to endure aircraft travel.

So. no; on balance I believe the HS2 is a project on which people will look back in years to come and wonder why it took the UK so long to do, giving that we did lead the world in railways at one time.

London – Leeds currently 2h 12m, and to Manchester 2h 12m. Add on the time to get from your home to the mainline station, and to your final destination, and these times are less significant. Still a day out. Where’s the real saving? We can improve capacity and journey times with more conventional railways and upgrades. Probably in a much shorter time than HS2 will take to build. How much will that delay cost?

However, just my personal view, as I say. I do not see the imperative to spend an extortionate amount of money and damage landscapes for very dubious benefits for a few well-heeled or expense-account customers. 150m/h trains are a lot cheaper and will make significant improvements possible.

I’ve just done Gloucester to Manchester and back in a day.

I was great that all my trains ran on time, but, even so over 5 hours of travelling time did limit the time I had for “important work” in Manchester. Shaving ~45 minutes off either journey would have also more or less doubled the time I could have spent in the all-day meeting I was attending.

Hence, I would say that the value of reduced journey times should sometimes be weighed against factors other than the time spent travelling.

I suppose it depends upon your attitude. If i had a long distance to travel for a factory visit or a meeting, i’d leave early and get home late, quite willing to leave the bulk of the working day for work. However, i rarely did this by train, as driving avoided the time lost each end in getting to and from the main stations.

malcolm, another factor is choosing to go by train or car, is the time that a train journey will take, relative to the time needed for a road trip. For example, Gloucester to Hartlepool would be quite awkward to do by train, so I always do that one by car.

I suspect another aspect is the state in which you arrive. Three hours sitting in a quiet carriage, being pampered by the on-board staff leaves you rather more relaxed than four hours driving the M1 or M6. I’m only speaking of our own experience with Virgin, it should be said.

I must agree. I had very relaxing journeys from Norwich to London and back on Monday [with Greater Anglia]. I was able to book off-peak advance tickets and use my senior railcard so the total cost of the First Class tickets was £21.10. The carriage was quiet with few passengers, and complimentary fruit and light refreshments were available throughout both journeys, served to my table on the outward journey or at the adjacent buffet counter on the return journey. The toilets were very clean and the staff were efficient and attentive. They were very smooth and comfortable journeys with no delays or problems and both trains arrived slightly before the scheduled time.

As Ian said, three hours on the train allows me review the meeting papers on the way and prepare my presenters notes, so they’ll be fresh in my mind, when it’s my turn to address the meeting. Three hours fighting the M5/M6 roadworks and interchange, followed by the Stoke-on-Trent linear car park and then Manchester’s city streets would leave me somewhat less well prepared.

I say again PLANS !! But when will things happen ?? All plans that need doing now usually take a long time to happen if things are not important they happen immediately that’s how government seems to work

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A rise in train fares? What a surprise, compensation has to be paid from somewhere.

Since Beeching hacked out the trains from the North of England and most of the land is now covered with roads or housing developments in our area of Grimsby NE Lincs…..we now cannot get a direct train to London, having to change twice. We are what is left of the people who went through the war years to protect our country, no in our 80s….not able to visit reletives in London because we are suffering old age problems and too old to drive down, as we once did. Everything now is for the benefit of young people who don’t relilize what problems we have to overcome, trying to keep in touch with our relatives…..even the government are now concentrating on what the young people want, since the Labour campaign won them over.

Further to comments re. time taken, and re. HS2,experience in various parts of the world has indicated that once train journey times become short enough to allow day – return trips, there is little to be gained , in terms for example of market share, from further speed – ups.

Manchester and Birmingham already are well within this range from London, hence many people’s scepticism about the need for ultra high speeds on HS2. The only journeys where a real “sea change” could happen in this country from very high speed might be from London to Northeast England, Edinburgh and Glasgow , via an East Coast alignment, where distances are long enough to bring about new day – return opportunities.