Britain’s rail fiasco – It’s not (just) about the money

When the Conservatives came into power in 2010 rail fares in Britain were already high. Since then, in a mere six years, they have risen by an astonishing 27 per cent – three times faster than wages. But the tragedy isn’t just that we’re spending six times more on rail fares than our counterparts in the rest of Europe. The tragedy is that we’re paying in to a rail network that is crumbling at the seams.

Over the past decade rail fares have increased twice as much as wages and inflation. The latest average increase, of 2.3 per cent, is the highest in three years, with fares on Virgin Trains East Coast services up by 4.9 per cent. But you sense that the protesters outside Kings Cross this morning weren’t only venting their frustration at the increase in fares in an already ludicrously overpriced system – it cost me over £160 for an open return to Leeds a couple of months back – but that the increase comes after a dismal year for the country’s rail operators.

Let’s take our beloved Southern Rail as an example. According to a new study the devastating disruption on Southern trains caused one commuter to lose two jobs and forced another to take a “higher dose of antidepressants”, with passengers saying they have been forced to uproot their lives and split up from their families because of constant cancellations and delays.

Almost two thirds of passengers said they wanted Transport secretary Chris Grayling and rail minister Paul Maynard to resign, with the vast majority saying they wanted to see Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern’s parent company, stripped of the franchise.

The Association of British Commuters, who conducted the survey, said the comments revealed the extent of suffering as services continue to break down. A daily commuter from Horley to London said: “I have lost two jobs and about to be put on disciplinary for time-keeping in my new job.

“Despite not having sympathy with the unions, this situation is being exacerbated by the intransigence and sheer ineptitude of some extremely poor management at Govia.”

Another commuter from Merstham to Clapham said: “Getting to work on time is proving near impossible most days of the week.

“Getting home is proving a nightmare most days of the week. If I could find a job with no commute, I’d swap in an instant.”

Most customers reported daily delays at an average of 27 minutes on outward journeys and 38 minutes on homeward journeys. They also reported widespread cancellations and feelings of tiredness and stress.

A passenger who commutes daily from Brighton to London said: “Quite simply, it has ruined my life.

“The stress and exhaustion from the constant disruption and uncertainty has had a dramatically negative effect on my work, my health and my relationships.

“From tomorrow I will be separated from my family during the working week and paying a rent I cannot afford simply in order to stay in London to do my job.”

A commuter from Wivelsfield to London said: “I’ve abandoned attempts to get to work, disrupted work days, cancelled meeting up with friends, changed dentist, unable to visit family for caring purposes, cancelled sports club memberships as unable to get home in time, get up at 0445 every day to check live departures so short of sleep, stressed by the thought of even trying to catch a train.”

Talks of strike action this month could result in further headache for commuters, but one gets the sense that there are far deeper problems in play here – both for staff and passengers.

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