Some outrage is justified—but make sure it hits the right targetby Christian Wolmar / January 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
We are in the midst of one of the all too frequent bouts of outrage about rail fares—with all the usual oversimplification of a complex issue. This happens in a cycle, first with the announcement in August of the rate of inflation on which the formula for rises is based, then the December confirmation of the precise nature of the increases and finally the introduction of the new fares in the first week in January.
We have just entered phase three, as today a hike comes into effect. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has come under heavy fire from his political opponents, not helped by the fact he is currently out of the country—and so stands accused of “running scared.”
Each step in the three-part cycle receives a disproportionate amount of the annual media coverage of the railways—and helps prevent a more considered and thorough appreciation of what is going on in an industry hated and loved in equal measure.
Just to be contrary, let’s look at the good news in Britain’s rail industry first and then fulminate about what is going wrong. Investment levels are at an all-time high and passenger numbers have more than doubled, to record levels historically, though there has been a slight decrease in the past few months. This year will see the opening of the Crossrail tunnels under London, a £15bn project to relieve pressure on the London Underground, and the expansion of Thameslink services to a range of new destinations, also the result of multi-billion pound investment.
And it’s not just London. The line between Glasgow and Edinburgh is being electrified, the opening of the Ordsall Chord in Manchester will greatly improve local services and new Hitachi trains are being introduced on the Great Western line, and soon on the East Coast. Overall, some £48bn will be invested on the railways in the period between 2019 and 2024, most of which is being provided by government cash.
Given all this, say the industry PR people, what is there not to like? Well, quite a lot actually. While the outcry over Britain’s railways comes in fits and starts, and criticisms are often levelled at the wrong things, there are indeed problems which need calling out.
These latest fares rises are a result of a…