The Significance of 15

By | Category: Travel rumblings

This weekend two events are taking place, neither of which will probably affect the train passenger. The significance may only be transitory but significant it is. One is the end of National Express on the east coast line up to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland and the other is the birthday of Eurostar.

I use the east coast line a lot. According to my National Express account records, I have made 18 return trips so far this year to places both for business and pleasure. On Saturday, it becomes Directly Operated Railways as the government takes back the franchise so, for the first time in 15 years, we have, in effect, a nationalised railway line. Will the passenger notice any difference? Probably not. The staff will just transfer across as will the rolling stock. The fares won’t reduce. All it probably means is that all the profits will accrue to the treasury.

Unlike Eurostar who also have a 15th to celebrate but theirs is the fifteenth anniversary of linking London with Paris and Brussels. And unlike National Express east coast line, this has been a success. Eurostar now has 80% of all the London/home counties passenger traffic going to Paris with the airlines holding just 20%. From an environmental point of view that has saved a lot of carbon emissions. From a practical standpoint, it has freed up slots for the airlines to link London with another more distant locations where train travel is impractical. From the passenger standpoint, it has meant a city centre to city centre journey saving time and hassle.

And maybe in another fifteen years, there will be fast links to other European centres from further afield than just London. And maybe the government will realise that handing out train franchisees to the highest bidder is not necessarily the right way to do it. Maybe they’ll realise, just as businesses often do, that a smaller upfront sum and a greater cut of the profits is a better way to go.

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