/ Travel & Leisure

Surprise! Train fares are going up… again

Thanks to Antony Griffiths on Flickr for the image

It’s a story we’re all too familiar with. In January next year, commuters can expect to see their season ticket fares increase by up to 11% – but can we really afford yet more price rises?

So, the average rail fare price increase in January every year is worked out by adding 3% to the Retail Price Index (RPI) in July the year before.

This year, RPI is expected to come in at 3.2%, making the average train fare increase in 2013 around 6.2%. However, rail companies can increase some fares by as much as 11%, as long as the overall average fare increase comes to 6.2%.

As a regular commuter, I’m used to seeing prices go up. But as salaries in the UK continue to stagnate, I don’t see how this can carry on. If my own season ticket from Chatham in Kent to London Bridge were to go up by 6% next year, I’ll be paying an extra £211 a year. In case you’re wondering – that’s £3,735 for my annual ticket. Ouch.

Too expensive to work

My biggest issue is the wider impact of these increases. It shouldn’t be assumed that a person who works in London receives an impressive salary and can afford these fares. I live in Kent and know many people who commute to London simply to receive a liveable salary, as local jobs are rarely available and poorly paid. And I’m sure this isn’t just a Kent-based phenomenon.

So what happens when we price these people out of travelling to London to work? Local job markets may become completely saturated. It could become more cost effective to move closer to London than to live in the suburbs, driving up house and rental prices near the capital even further. Economy in the suburbs might suffer and people’s standard of living could go down.

Can I get a seat with that?

My second issue is the lack of visible improvements that come as a result of fare increases. If paying a few extra hundred pounds a year meant I’d get a seat on my morning train, I might just grumble quietly. If it meant my trains ran on time and weren’t randomly cancelled, I might just grin and bear it.

But considering that my services are few and far between, overcrowded and uncomfortable, it’s hard to accept having to pay more for my ticket (Southeastern has imposed 3% plus RPI fare rises since 2007!). As a Kent dweller, you might point to the HS1. But although it’s a fantastic train, an annual HS1 ticket is £120 a month more expensive, so why should other commuters have to subsidise it?

Finally, the fare increases vary depending on where you live. For example, Yorkshire has suffered similar increases, which arguably haven’t been reflected in rail investment.

Our executive director Richard Lloyd commented on the price rises:

‘Price rises well above inflation will be a nasty shock for many households who are already struggling with rising bills. The government should think again about allowing these fare rises, and instead put consumers first if they want to do more to support the economy.’

In the end, rail companies have commuters over a barrel. Are you, like me, worried that increasing fares will eventually price you out of commuting? Do you think the quality of your rail service reflects price rises?


Every year increase in rail fare in the name of new development or intra structure !….. Where is the motto gone of Govt about to leave your car at home and use more public transport? We have seen that more people are leaving public transport and using their car for cheaper option.We can see our roads are getting very busy . Rail fare is rip off. It is time to renationalise our train and proud to say British Rail

I have to say I was really shocked to find out what people pay for season tickets to commute regularly. I’m lucky enough to live within London Zone 3, which is still pretty expensive when it comes to season tickets but seems to be a bargain in comparison to what people have to pay on other train networks. It takes me by surprise when, for instance, I go for a weekend up in Manchester or down south to visit my parents.

If I were to rule the world (or the transport network, at the very least) I’d want to make sure that rail fares always cost at least less than the cost of two people driving somewhere (i.e. you can buy two return tickets for less than the cost of the petrol to drive the same journey). Unfortunately many journeys fail that test at the moment, meaning many are priced off public transport.

If I were to choose a country where public transport should be cheapest then Britain would surely top the bill. Compared to Germany or France its smaller with a higher population density. Geology is stable and the geography doesn’t present civil engineering challenges any greater than our European neighbours. Rail companies point out that Britain carries more passengers and runs more services to a tighter schedule and that’s true, but it also surely means greater economies of scale?

In Germany, Europe’s next most expensive rail service, the most expensive standard class fare you can buy is a BahnCard 100 which costs EUR 3,990.00. This an annual fare which allows open travel on all DB rail services in Germany, i.e., anywhere to anywhere at any time on any service (including the high speed ICE) within the borders of Germany. By contrast a restricted annual fare from Southampton to London will set you back well over £4000.00

So perhaps the the Continental governments subsidise their rail services more than we do? So lets compare total cost of service including government subsidies to see how we fare. Can we get some transparency on this?

TheVanGuard says:
14 August 2012

European and British rail systems cannot be compared – this really is an apples to oranges situation as the British railway system is the only one run the way it is. But if we’re going to compare things, let’s note that spending in Britain has been concentrated on Suburban services. Farnham, a town on the SWT railway network, has approximately 33 000 population. Farnham receives a train every 30 minutes in each direction, from around 0600 to 0000hrs every weekday. An equivalent size town in France (who’s name escapes me) receives 4 trains, two in each direction, each day. And yet ticket prices for suburban travel are broadly similar, because the French Government subsidises HSR travel at the expense of suburban trains.

Caen-Cherbourg, a trip comparable to Aldershot-Woking. (Clean) (new [<10 years old]) (quiet and technologically advanced) Trains every 30 minutes in each direction in the UK from 0600 – 2330 – price £13 one-way. Caen-Cherbourg has a (dirty) (old) (technologically basic) service every 75 minutes from 0900 – 2000. Price? £10 ticket.

Continental suburban services are shoddy in many places compared to British services; the difference is that although ticket prices are higher, subsidies are smaller and the money is spent in a more equal fashion, rather than just making one aspect enviable and leaving the rest to rot. I'd rather have our system than any other, despite its failings.

Yes you are probably right on many of your points but I have used both the DB national rail services as well as their more metropolitan overland service. As a user of both UK and German rails services I think there is a point of comparison, especially with first hand experience of of the quality of both. The German services aren’t quite as frequent but by god the quality is better in almost every other respect and they are affordable.
So, Britain vs Germany. Government subsidy + passenger contribution. Who is spending more? In this instance the lowest score wins. Who it?

This is the side effect of rail privatization. They can charge what they want to run railway.
Rail companies never listen rail users and passenger focus. Some of their train running empty on weekends still they will say their train running in full capasity !….Rail users are forced to use their car because of expensive rail fare and parking charges and confusing peak and offpeak and super off peak hours.Rail companies know, how to trap passenger in penalty fare for their single mistake. I hope all rail companies should be taken by mega train in future or nationalize again.

Mark Hammond says:
14 August 2012

I agree with the NATIONALIZATION of Railways.

I cannot believe government grants to the railways paid by us the taxpayer, even though the rail is “privatized” — what a joke. Let the companies go bankrupt and buy-back the railways at a cheap price. The 80s privatization experiment has failed. Time to move on.

This money should be going to the ROADS and construction of new MOTORWAYS rather than letting the shareholders off!


Alison says:
18 August 2012

Exactly!! Or invest it in more Green Cars and fuel. Drivers need cheaper eco cars with more choice of electric and bio fuel, particularly Hydroden.

The railways ‘should’ be the cheaper alternative however, to get us off the roads, I wish I could always afford to go by rail instead of drive.

These new rail price hikes make me so angry!!

All Rail company has got one common goal to bring down passenger on road by 2015 !…….They all profiting like oil companies. Every year, we saw rise in fare.Rise in their car parking.Some of the rail fare does not give any discount on rail card, so what is the value of Rail card ?!.. Advance fare is cheaper but you want get any refund if you have a problem on travel day. We have lost £80 in advance fare due to sickness.l….Even budget Airlines are cheaper than rail fare !……. .It is time to bring back all rail companies as a BRITISH RAIL.
Many passengers are shocked by their massive rise when their pay package is frozen and economic condition is worsening day by day.
One hand Govt says that they would like to encourage more road users to use public transport and leave your car at your home. It is reverse message to the public,use more car and leave the expensive transport system at Govt. door step !……..Govt should invite all budget airlines companies to jump in to rail service sector .

The cost of public transport and driving are both rising, so perhaps it is time to do something about our obsession with transport. It is going back a few years, but people used to live near their place of work.

Perhaps our planners might like to give this some thought. It has worked in the past and could be made to work again. Rather than find objections, why not think about the benefits, such as time saved in our busy lives.

Any frequent travellers on Northern Ireland Railways on here? NI Railways was never privatised so it’d be interesting to see how it compares with privatised rail on the mainland, for while it put its fares up 3% in April, it has just announced free wifi on all its trains.

The rail service is fragmented both vertically and horizontally.
On a vertical level the rolling stock, rail infrastructure service provision has been separated. These individual services fragment themselves again by outsourcing again. The management of the barriers for example appears to have no connection to the provision of the service. Within all this continuity and accountability has been lost. Attend a “meeting with the managers” and every question presented appears to be met with “thats xxx service responsibility not us”. You can nail anyone down to anything.

Within all these different levels each has their own management and administration.

Then on a horizontal level we have different services providers trying to create the illusion of competition. A fallacy as any passenger knows their commuting options are limited to a single service provider who has a captive audience and functions as an effective monopoly.

Again, each service provider has its own management and administration infrastructure. Costs again multiplied.

What impact does the fragmentation and duplication of management infrastructure have on costs, and why is this organisational chaos allowed to continue when it fails to deliver an affordable service?

Mantequilla says:
15 August 2012

Sounds like every UK business, run by consultants and third parties so everyone has someone to blame when it all goes awry

Yes indeed. Every politician & CEO has hired a MBA with well rehearsed phrases like “shareholder value” to take a monkey off his back.
British Rail was John Majors monkey, NHS is George Osborne’s
In Banks its all the rage to outsource IT skills and system experience to India and then watch mystified when all your computer transactions go south. (That little fiasco will cost RBS/NatWest £125m in compensation alone. Now there’s shareholder value for you).

Jennifer, I’m glad you included the wider economic issues in your article. Many Londoners qualify for a London Weighting supplement on their salary – this is affected by travel cost increases and ultimately feeds back into consumer prices and into local and national taxation [most public service workers enjoy LW], and can lead to headcount reductions. The government thinks everyone is better off because interest rates have been held down but this is not true for tenants, for people with credit card balances and commercial loan repayments, and for those trying to manage on their diminishing savings and investments which now attract negligible returns.

I should have mentioned of course that increases in consumer prices caused by higher train fares being reflected in employee wage costs ultimately lead to higher retail prices that give rise to increases in train fares.

Why is the lower cost of borrowing not allowing train companies to reduce their operating costs and then stabilise or even lower their fares?

It’s interesting that as soon as motorists squeal at the upcoming price increase under the road fuel duty accelerator the government backs down and defers it whereas the annual above-inflation railway fares increase just rolls along like a run-away train [although the government has promised to moderate the rate of above-inflation increase in future years]. Unfortunately, both road and rail users are largely captive – the railways would collapse under the strain if all road users defected to rail and likewise if the opposite occurred. Both are equally vital for our economic survival and development so a balanced and equitable distribution of funding is long overdue.

I agree with your comment about road fuel duty, John, and the main thing that annoys me is that the price at the pump is sometimes maintained well after a decrease in the price of oil.

Unless something miraculous happens the price of transport will continue to rise, together with the price of domestic fuel. Considerable effort has gone into making homes more energy efficient but throughout my adult life the use of private and public transport, including air travel, has escalated enormously and I am not aware of anything other than price that has been done to discourage our use of transport. Some users of trains and cars do have to put up with all sorts of problems thanks to the amount we travel.

It is high time that we start redesigning cities and towns to give cyclists and pedestrians priority. Now that we have much less heavy industry, there is no reason why people cannot live closer to their place of work. We used to do this, but commuting has become a habit, and like smoking and excessive drinking, it is a habit that could be difficult to get out of. We could just wait until rail fares and fuel duty have tripled to help everyone realise that there is a problem, but perhaps it might be better to start now.

If we had halved the money spent on the Olympics we could have made a useful start.

halki says:
16 August 2012

Richard Branson is better off with out the Poor rail network; I myself will not use again ever.

The real reason for this and other essential service costs is simple, privatisation. A single entity has been fragmented into many sub entities, each with a single purpose, profit. Therefore instead of one layer of management with the objective of providing the public with a service a whole legion of companies mushroom. Add together the profit made by all these companies and you will see why travelling by public [privatised] transport is so expensive.

Try counting the number of companies involved in running the railways.