In another demonstration of London-centric behaviour, those at the Maily Telegraph and its Sunday stablemate have gone into their obligatory annual why-oh-why-fest over the cost of rail travel, on which so many of their hacks depend, but which is rather less of an expense to those of us who tend to commute over shorter distances, or work where there are alternative means of transport available.
New stock for Telegraph staff: South West Trains' Siemens built Class 444 unit at Clapham Junction en route to Weymouth
“Rail fares have gone up 50 per cent in the past decade” is the howl of protest masquerading as a headline, followed by the highly questionable “no perceptible improvement in services” assertion. Fare levels, whatever the protests about management pay or drivers’ hours, are mainly down to the policy of all main political players that passengers should pay more of the total cost.
In other words, were these to be lower, that would mean more subsidy, often from those who don’t use the railway. And as to the assertion that services haven’t improved, well, I can only speak from my own experience, and based here in Crewe have to say that this contention is total crap. For starters, in the past decade, Virgin Trains has put a complete new fleet of trains into service.
And so has regional operator London Midland, which provides services to Liverpool, Birmingham, and a slower but cheaper one to London. On top of that, Arriva Trains Wales has switched newer trains to its Manchester – Crewe – Cardiff route, and has refurbished the rest of its fleet. East Midlands Trains has also refurbished its trains. Cross Country has mainly new trains with a few refurbished ones.
Service levels are at least as good as in 2002 – the Birmingham to Crewe and Liverpool route has seen a doubling of frequency, we get four trains an hour to Manchester on weekdays, there are three an hour to London and hourly services to Scotland – and reliability is better. Timekeeping is certainly no worse than a decade ago. Passenger information is better. Stations are generally more pleasant.
But there’s no pacifying the Tel, where Jake Wallis Simons (one of their features writers) has thundered “It’s time to bring the railway bandits to justice”. His main gripe is that his annual season ticket costs £4,372, which sounds a lot until you realise that he lives in Winchester. This means, assuming 240 round trips per year, that he pays £18.22 per return journey, or 13.4 pence per mile.
On top of that, South West Trains – who run the services from Winchester to London – have in the past decade taken delivery of a brand new fleet of trains from Herr Siemens, including the Class 444, arguably the best new build medium-distance electric multiple unit on the network. That’s the unit that provides Simons’ service for him. Compare and contrast with the cost of running a car over those distances.
Some folk don’t know their good fortune. Even if they do work for the Telegraph.