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Friday 9 March 2012

Mail On Wrong Track

The cost of making a journey by rail in mainland UK can vary depending on the time of day, operator, and time of booking. This has been the case since the sell-offs, and even in the days of BR, there were times of the day when cheaper tickets were barred, as well as the opportunity to save money by booking ahead. For regular passengers this is not new news.

A quieter moment at Clapham Junction

And that presents a problem to hard pressed hacks and pundits. How to extract a story from a non-story? The solution, as demonstrated by the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, is to selectively promote trivia and suggestion to the status of immutable truth, while ordering a pundit to go over the top in a routine display of frothing outrage.

Pubs to sell train ticketsreads the enthusiastic headline in Ray Massey’s piece, before revealing later that no such proposal has been made. Other less than earth-shattering news is that travelling off-peak will be less expensive (bit like it already is, then), there will be “airline style ticketing” (that means “demand management”, so that’s like we have now), and asserts that the railways waste billions every year.

And that last is complete drivel: the idea that the industry fritters away “Up to £3.5 billion a year” is pure invention, as is the proposition that this amount could then be diverted into lowering ticket prices. The myth of waste is constantly trotted out by politicians and swallowed by gullible hacks, but every time someone sets out to stand the claim up, they return empty-handed.

But never mind, there’s a pundit in close attendance: James Slack is in full why-oh-why mode as he harrumphs “Let the train take the strain? You must be joking” before telling that buying a train ticket is “like being mugged”, with “an overwhelming feeling of daylight robbery”. I missed out on this yesterday evening when I went to the ticket window at Crewe station and bought a day return to Chester.

No violence or threat thereof was made, though the cost has gone up since last year by 40p. The ticket was duly issued, and the next train took me to my destination at a cost of around 24p a mile, with an average speed as high as the maximum allowed on the local road network. Moreover, there was no sanction on enjoying a few beers before returning at an equally rapid pace.

Slack resents overcrowding, but does not suggest the obvious solution of either pricing folks off the trains with even more expensive season tickets, or getting the Government to pay more instead. He talks of a fantasy world where “prices soar in the space of a few minutes”, while not mentioning that elsewhere in mainland Europe, there is both demand management and a strict reservation only policy.

This shows both hack and pundit united in cluelessness. No change there, then.

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