UK Rail Fares – Systemic Failure?

Recently I had to travel by train from Bath to London at peak times.  No choice – that was what I needed.  About one hundred miles each way, or an hour and a half.

The return rail fare?

One hundred and seventy four UK pounds.  £174.

Yes, that’s right – £174.  From First Great Western.

Many thoughts went through my head as  I handed over the money.  With that I could buy: a weekend break, a netbook, several decent meals, two weeks of food shopping …

I know that if I ask First Great Western why it’s so expensive, I’ll be told: “well, you don’t have to buy that ticket, book in advance, you can get cheaper tickets” etc.  So there’s little point asking; they’re not empowered to give a fair (no pun intended) answer.

So, why is rail travel so expensive?  200 miles at £174 is a mileage rate of 87p per mile.  Car travel is – all inclusive – typically 45p/mile, and only gets cheaper as you share.  For a driver and passenger, the mileage rate is just one quarter the combined rail fare!

I must conclude this is another case of systemic failure: but one that lies perhaps with the rail industry and its financing models?  The Victorians cleared the way (literally), building the track.  Why then, is it so expensive, to keep it running in the 21st century?

A systemic view would take all these costs into account; but then it would need to be answerable to a clear set of ‘quality of life’ criteria – something no organisation yet knows how to formulate for the benefit of its citizens.  Therein lies our challenge: to frame the problem so that it can be solved by the public.




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