Why must rail fares go up at all?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

That rail fares are going up again next January will surprise no-one.

Must there be a price rise?

This time it is 1.6% but why should they go up at a time when discounting might persuade people to return to the train services?

Who would have thought, this time last year, that trains would run almost empty. Yes I know a recent service from St Albans into London was full but what was a commuter sardine can of a train – a service from Horsham in Sussex up to London Victoria – was very sparsely filled, almost a passenger per carriage.

Even trains known for moving passengers and cumbersome luggage like the 13.30 from Manchester to Tenby or the 18.06 from Paignton to Birmingham has been quieter than might be expected.

Why because people have been driving.

Do we want people in cars or do we want as many as possible on public transport?

Admittedly the confidence factor has to be resolved first. People have to feel that train travel is as safe as it could be made and that confidence just isn’t there.

In the old days with compartment carriages it was easier to socially distance. Some airlines are considering perspex screens between seats and behind rows to instill confidence. What are the railway companies considering? I wouldn’t know not having been on a train since March but those that have tell me that they don’t see much of a difference apart from with signage.

When Grant Shapps, the cabinet minister responsible for transport, said that he expected train passenger numbers would return to normal he wasn’t talking about tomorrow or the week after. In the meantime confidence has to be built and increasing rail fares does nothing but antagonise those who he wants to return to the rail network.

Does he want a busier road network, a congested road network and endless stories about infrastructure failures?

And before anybody says that the railway network must pay for itself, why? The British government has thrown billions at industry during the pandemic. It can’t say that it can’t afford to do the same to cancel the fares’ rise.

Coming after it was announced that CrossRail wouldn’t be ready until 2022 and would cost in excess of another £400 million, cancelling a rise would be not just good politics but help to restore some faith in the future direction of transport.

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