Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 2, 2010

Rising cost of British rail

Now we got rid of all those pesky passengers...

The view from the shop floor.

If the first fall of snow brings the annual ‘Britain’s grinding to a halt’ frenzy of national self-recrimination, and the first wave of Train Operation Companies-directed frustration; then January brings the annual fares scandal as the TOCs raise fares using figures which leave the inflation rate behind like a stranded passenger on a lonely platform.

This year, the media reports that some (regulated) fares have actually dropped – albeit minutely – because of inflation. Others, namely deregulated fares (off-peak or leisure travel) have risen by as much as 15%. One might think Germany’s efficient network of ICE trains would make for a high price tag, but the BBC states we have Europe’s “most expensive” railways here.

London has finally seen the rolling out of Oyster on most national rail overground services in London. The previous lack of ticketing integration has been farcical in an international hub that promotes itself as one of the world’s leading cities.

The tube network is biased to the north of the river; many areas on either side of the Thames depend on trains. So, seven years after the cards were first introduced, this further ‘Oysterisation’ is most welcome. Again, TOCs have come in for criticism over the delay in implementation.

Here too though, the good news is tempered by rises of 3.9% in tube fares and a massive but barely remarked-on 20% increase in the bus flat rate. If my basic economics is right, that’s roughly ten times the rate of inflation.

Once a pioneer of railways, Britain is now paying the cost as aging infrastructure and Victorian-dug tunnels perpetuate historical bottlenecks on a system that is a victim not only of its own success, but also years of underinvestment.

A combination of political and logistical shortsightedness, combined with greed and vested interests meant that the country’s railways received neither the attention nor the money they merited.

While politicians call for us to travel in the most ecological fashion possible, train companies continue to price us off their services; despite the public subsidies they still receive. Such contradictory signals threaten to derail a greener future for mass transport in the UK.

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