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Sunday 12 August 2012

Super Soaraway Rail Rant

One way you can tell that the Fourth Estate is short of copy is when there is a rant about train fares. And, as today’s whingefest in the Murdoch Sun demonstrates, the level of investigative journalism and lack of coherent argument can result in the hacks falling flat on their faces. “Train costs more than plane – it’s insane” screams the headline. But it doesn’t take long to spot the howlers.

You can pay more and travel on this ...

And, it has to be said, the misinformation, and let’s start with that first. Rupe’s downmarket troops have looked at journeys on August 19 and 26, and slipping once more into Jon Stewart mode, two things here. The second of those dates is a Bank Holiday weekend, and Sundays generally are not only busy on the railways, but also the preferred time for Network Rail (NR) to dig up parts of their network.

That means there are far less book-ahead deals available, especially to and from London, and that’s exacerbated by the presence of the Paralympics this year. And on top of all that, looking at London to Manchester, the hacks have got this one flat wrong. £85? I can do that return journey any Sunday for £38.30. Ho yus I can. So their “cheapest available return fare” claim is a blatant porkie.

... but it can cost a lot less to travel on this instead

How do I do that 380 mile round trip for so little? Simples. Travel on the slower (but still hourly or two hourly) London Midland service from Euston to Stoke on Trent, change there, then take any train forward to Manchester Piccadilly. £24.50 for the first part, £13.80 for the second. And that fare allows you to change to an earlier or later train without having to pay extra. Result!

Yes, that just shows that you need a little inside knowledge of the ticketing system and offers available, but if the Sun is going to do the job properly, it should have done this for its readers. There are online fora available where you can glean this information. And that’s before we get to the loaded comparison with air travel, which for starters doesn’t serve the same endpoints.

London to Manchester by plane is fine if you live in west London or south Manchester. City centre to city centre means more time and more money (tube and train fares at a minimum). EasyJet I’ve flown with – satisfactorily – many times, but you’re only allowed carry-on luggage in the price shown, the number of flights per day may be limited to one or two, and changing plans can be an expensive extra.

Added to that, you’d have to get to whichever airport they use – the London ones are Gatwick, Luton and Stansted – and won’t be able to take even a water bottle through security. Oh, and much of the population lives closer to the train than the plane – like all of us here in Crewe. Or Chester. Or Stoke, Stafford, Warrington, Preston and dozens of other towns. The Sun doesn’t seem bothered about that.

Rail travel can be expensive. And so, it seems, can proper investigative journalism.

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