Comment: Rail operators cannot lose as commuters continue to suffer

Comment: Rail operators cannot lose as commuters continue to suffer

Comment: Rail operators cannot lose as commuters continue to suffer

First published in News
Last updated
Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

Anyone who has had the misfortune to use London Midland to commute into the capital will have had cause to consider the failings of the ‘state vs private’ economic conundrum.

Since the Great Depression, when laissez faire capitalism fell rapidly out of fashion, our political discourse has essentially been about how much state intervention we want with our free markets.

In Britain this has descended into a Goldilocks-style debate with each of the main parties insisting their particular balance is just right.

There is one area where – clearly –  this balancing act has comprehensively failed, and that is the railways.

After the ping-ponging between nationalisation and then part privatisation over the last 70 years, we have been left with the worst of all worlds: a series of flabby, rapacious monopolies.

I received a keen insight into the miseries of being a commuter under the jackboot to one such monopoly travelling into London to cover a high court trial this week.

As I ambled up to Kings Langley station on Monday I braced myself for the fiscal gouging I half expected with getting a travelcard into London.

But the £23-a-day cost even surpassed my already wary expectation. Admittedly, that was buying a ticket on a daily ad hoc basis.

But looking at London Midland’s season ticket prices, regular commuters also face punishing costs.

The cheapest monthly season ticket from Kings Langley to Euston generated by the London Midland website was £286 and the cheapest annual season ticket £2,980.

So if you are on a salary of £30,000 a year, which is more than the national average, that’s roughly 10 per cent of your annual wage. And that’s just to get into Euston.

If you are one of that small minority of commuters financially reckless enough to work somewhere in the capital other than Euston, then Transport for London is waiting with its own exorbitant monopolised prices.

The ordeal of commuting via London Midland would be slightly less incensing if you were getting a halfway decent service for its premium prices.

But commuters are packed cheek-by-jowl into cramped trains, which are often delayed or cancelled.

Commuters are trapped. There is no competition to turn to and the rail companies can continue to increase fares year-on-year without any incentive to improve their product.

This farce has been enabled by the political establishment, which has overseen ticket price hike after ticket price hike over the past decade with bovine passivity.

There are some signs the understandable anger of commuters is beginning to register in Westminster.

Last year, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the regulated rail fare price cap of the retail price index inflation rate plus 1 per cent was being changed to just the RPI rate.

Unfortunately for George, that horse bolted long ago. Fares are already grossly inflated and eating up large chunks of commuters’ disposable income, something that cannot be helping the economic recovery.

The problem is this supposedly privatised rail system is not a free market. The only threat to rail companies’ business is if the Government does not renew their franchises, which happens rarely.

The result is commuters have about as much choice over their train services as zoo animals have over their diet.

Comments (9)

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2:40pm Fri 7 Mar 14

TRT says...

Mike, did you get my email about the 11-15 Oyster rip-off?
Mike, did you get my email about the 11-15 Oyster rip-off? TRT
  • Score: 0

2:48pm Fri 7 Mar 14

Cuetip says...

No wonder rial franchises are so bitterly fought over by the rival operators as they fleece the captive traveller. Those on low wages are really crucified by these callous operators.

Where have all our taxes gone?
No wonder rial franchises are so bitterly fought over by the rival operators as they fleece the captive traveller. Those on low wages are really crucified by these callous operators. Where have all our taxes gone? Cuetip
  • Score: 9

2:53pm Fri 7 Mar 14

Cuetip says...

Does anyone know how many stakeholders have some financial spin off from the 'rail opeartors' at Watford Junction or those who have a vested interest in eg the Croxley Rail Link ?

It seems the rail industry is now so fragmented and they all want a slice of the pie.
Does anyone know how many stakeholders have some financial spin off from the 'rail opeartors' at Watford Junction or those who have a vested interest in eg the Croxley Rail Link ? It seems the rail industry is now so fragmented and they all want a slice of the pie. Cuetip
  • Score: 5

3:44pm Fri 7 Mar 14

E.Coli says...

Cuetip wrote:
Does anyone know how many stakeholders have some financial spin off from the 'rail opeartors' at Watford Junction or those who have a vested interest in eg the Croxley Rail Link ?

It seems the rail industry is now so fragmented and they all want a slice of the pie.
I think the big tree in Cassiobury Park has a branch line to Watford Junction
[quote][p][bold]Cuetip[/bold] wrote: Does anyone know how many stakeholders have some financial spin off from the 'rail opeartors' at Watford Junction or those who have a vested interest in eg the Croxley Rail Link ? It seems the rail industry is now so fragmented and they all want a slice of the pie.[/p][/quote]I think the big tree in Cassiobury Park has a branch line to Watford Junction E.Coli
  • Score: 0

4:26pm Fri 7 Mar 14

Andrew1963 says...

A monthly season at £286 say 20 return trips that is £14.30 a day. How far is it from Kings Langley to Euston, say about 20 miles? So say 40 miles a day that's 36p a mile, which is less than the Inland Revenue car mileage tax limit of 41p a mile. So cheaper by train than driving. Just imagine the price if you paid for your supermarket shopping at the beginning of the month I expect most people would be spending around £286 a month.
A monthly season at £286 say 20 return trips that is £14.30 a day. How far is it from Kings Langley to Euston, say about 20 miles? So say 40 miles a day that's 36p a mile, which is less than the Inland Revenue car mileage tax limit of 41p a mile. So cheaper by train than driving. Just imagine the price if you paid for your supermarket shopping at the beginning of the month I expect most people would be spending around £286 a month. Andrew1963
  • Score: 6

6:20am Sat 8 Mar 14

InterludeWFC says...

On average, Season Ticket prices have actually gone down in real terms since the end of British Rail. Individual tickets have increased in price, but many more discounts, such as advanced fares and railcards, are offered now compared to 20 years ago. And the service now is substantially better - in 1990, 1 in 4 trains were delayed or cancelled. Today it's closer to 1 in 10, which admittedly is still poor, but then the railways are suffering from years of neglect under (yes, you guessed it) British Rail.

The grass is always greener...
On average, Season Ticket prices have actually gone down in real terms since the end of British Rail. Individual tickets have increased in price, but many more discounts, such as advanced fares and railcards, are offered now compared to 20 years ago. And the service now is substantially better - in 1990, 1 in 4 trains were delayed or cancelled. Today it's closer to 1 in 10, which admittedly is still poor, but then the railways are suffering from years of neglect under (yes, you guessed it) British Rail. The grass is always greener... InterludeWFC
  • Score: -2

10:23am Sat 8 Mar 14

WatfordAlex says...

Methinks some of the comments above might be written by managers from the privatized rail companies! As Mike Wright has already written, the economics are simple - private monopolies are the worst of all worlds. Its all well and good saying that performance has gone up since the 1980s, but that says nothing positive about privatization and simply reflects the fact that the amount of money (our money) going into the system has exploded. IF BR had that level of investment then things would have improved. As the publically run East Coast Mainline has recently shown, state owned rail is cheaper to the tax payer. For a depressing read see Christian Wolmar's 'Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain’s Railways'.

By the way politicians, opinion polling shows renationalising the railways would be one of the most popular things a new government could do.
Methinks some of the comments above might be written by managers from the privatized rail companies! As Mike Wright has already written, the economics are simple - private monopolies are the worst of all worlds. Its all well and good saying that performance has gone up since the 1980s, but that says nothing positive about privatization and simply reflects the fact that the amount of money (our money) going into the system has exploded. IF BR had that level of investment then things would have improved. As the publically run East Coast Mainline has recently shown, state owned rail is cheaper to the tax payer. For a depressing read see Christian Wolmar's 'Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain’s Railways'. By the way politicians, opinion polling shows renationalising the railways would be one of the most popular things a new government could do. WatfordAlex
  • Score: 7

10:37am Sat 8 Mar 14

Andrew1963 says...

WatfordAlex wrote:
Methinks some of the comments above might be written by managers from the privatized rail companies! As Mike Wright has already written, the economics are simple - private monopolies are the worst of all worlds. Its all well and good saying that performance has gone up since the 1980s, but that says nothing positive about privatization and simply reflects the fact that the amount of money (our money) going into the system has exploded. IF BR had that level of investment then things would have improved. As the publically run East Coast Mainline has recently shown, state owned rail is cheaper to the tax payer. For a depressing read see Christian Wolmar's 'Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain’s Railways'.

By the way politicians, opinion polling shows renationalising the railways would be one of the most popular things a new government could do.
All of that might be true but would the fares go down?
[quote][p][bold]WatfordAlex[/bold] wrote: Methinks some of the comments above might be written by managers from the privatized rail companies! As Mike Wright has already written, the economics are simple - private monopolies are the worst of all worlds. Its all well and good saying that performance has gone up since the 1980s, but that says nothing positive about privatization and simply reflects the fact that the amount of money (our money) going into the system has exploded. IF BR had that level of investment then things would have improved. As the publically run East Coast Mainline has recently shown, state owned rail is cheaper to the tax payer. For a depressing read see Christian Wolmar's 'Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain’s Railways'. By the way politicians, opinion polling shows renationalising the railways would be one of the most popular things a new government could do.[/p][/quote]All of that might be true but would the fares go down? Andrew1963
  • Score: 2

11:58am Tue 11 Mar 14

Wooter bout that! says...

An excellent comment piece. Definitely captures the frustrations of hard-pressed commuters. Absolutely nothing has been done by this Government (or the previous incumbent) to remedy this unpalatable situation.
An excellent comment piece. Definitely captures the frustrations of hard-pressed commuters. Absolutely nothing has been done by this Government (or the previous incumbent) to remedy this unpalatable situation. Wooter bout that!
  • Score: 5

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