Good news for train passengers?

Posted on August 18, 2009

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News today that train fares are set to fall next year, which on the face of it is good news for those of us who like using trains. Cheap, easily accessible train travel is important to this country, not only in providing a way for those without cars to get around but also in limiting emissions. Surely this anticipated drop in train prices is a good thing?

Well, no, actually. Firstly, the drop will be a tiny 0.4%, though Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has done his best to put a bit of Labour spin on it. This reduction is by no means enough, as train prices remain astronomical unless tickets are booked a long way in advance. The prospect of getting a £60 train ticket from London to Leeds 0.4% cheaper is unlikely to persuade people to revert back to travelling by train.

Secondly, the private companies in charge of the trains will look to recoup their loss, such as it is, and thus unregulated rail fares will no doubt increase, meaning that savings made by booking tickets in advance will be wiped out. The problem with privatised rail travel is that the service providers are always unwilling to risk a loss of profits and will therefore find new ways to milk the travelling public for all it is worth.

Train prices have increased significantly since the railways were fully privatised, though this has occurred at the same time as a great improvement in services. Delays, cancellations and woefully inadequate trains are still as commonplace as they were when the system was under state control. The only change is that services are infinitely more expensive. If the government is really serious about encouraging people to use the trains, and therefore about cutting carbon emissions, then they should stop attempting to portray mediocre price cuts like this as a great step forward, and instead go for greater regulation, or preferably, though I realise this is very unlikely under the current government or a Conservative one, renationalise the networks.

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Posted in: Politics