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Train users can rejoice with caution

Posted on - 30th November, 2010 - 9:48am | Author - | Posted in - Business, News, Photos

Depending on your feelings for the railways, users of train services from Preston will become winners, and almost certainly losers.

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Behind the scenes a lot has been happening, especially over the last three weeks.

The Department for Transport (DfT) have submitted proposals for a new timetable in 2012 for the new yet-to-be-tendered operator of the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Plans are in place for 45 train services connecting Scotland, Lancashire and London boosting services by 50%.

What does this mean for the passenger travelling to and from Preston? Instead of 13 trains leaving London for Preston, 23 trains will leave the capital every day, and 22 on the return leg.

London Midland also has plans. The Midlands-based operator published its business case for a new service between Preston and the Midlands. If the rail authorities approve the plan then 13 trains will run in each direction serving Lancashire and Birmingham. It could compete with the new WCML franchise holder and Virgin Trains currently run a service that runs between the two regions, a handful of extra services in the new WCML specification will further boost capacity.

On the subject of competition, a spokesman from Virgin Trains, said: “We are in favour of competition. We would have our own thoughts but that is until the franchise is issued.”

Photo courtesy of London Midland © 2008

Photo courtesy of London Midland © 2008

And in other railway news, three train operators are battling to win their proposals for a direct rail link between London and Blackpool via Preston.

Operators vying for the service are: Alliance Rail, whose plans are part of a bigger vision to serve towns and cities across the north with several routes linking up with London; open access train operator Grand Central Railway has submitted an application to rail regulators to run eight trains connecting the Fylde Coast and London via Preston. The York-based company already runs a limited service connecting Bradford and Sunderland with London. And finally, the new franchise holder of the WCML in 2012 could potentially operate six direct services into the capital.

Open access operators Grand Central and Alliance Rail will only succeed with their business case to the authorities if they are not taking existing revenue away from the franchise holder. And only one of the mentioned companies will win the right to run train services on the Blackpool route. Otherwise all the money an open access operator makes, they keep, because they are not funded out of subsidies from the state. Why would the government want to grand track access to an operator like Grand Central, taking money away from the franchise operator, and thus subsidies too? It makes no sense so you do the maths.

By saving the worst news, the fares will at least look like they are good value for money. Train fares will go up on average by 6.2% in the New Year.

Regulated fares will go up by 5.8% and unregulated ‘off-peak’ fares will rise by as much as 0.6% above the RPI.

Don’t be surprised as this announcement has become more of a tradition. At the start of 2012, the 1% cap used to set rail fares has been lifted to 3% above the Retail Prices Index (RPI). Therefore, whatever the RPI is in November, add 3% on that to budget for a rise in regulated ‘peak time’ fares.

The increases will affect all rail operators including Virgin Trains, TransPennine Express and Northern Rail.

A single fare from Preston to London on Virgin Trains, without railcard discounts will cost £13 from January 2, up 50p. That is a rise of 4%. However, for the bargain hunters reading this post, with a railcard, a single ticket will cost £8.50. You would be hard pressed to find a better value fare over long distance with the added bonus of comfort and travelling in style.

Here at Blog Preston, a word of warning, buying a walk-on single ticket at Virgin Trains to London will cost £289, up from £271, representing a 6.6% annual increase.

Our consumer advice is to always buy early, use a railcard if you own one, and single tickets can be cheaper. The only downsides are that you have to get on the train you booked, and you may have to travel at unsociable times of the day or night.

If you are looking to travel in the New Year, book before December 5 to beat the fare increases on advanced fares. Don’t miss out.

It does seem like it is all bad news, but some of the good news has already been announced. Preston will benefit from the electrification between Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool. This means cleaner, faster and second hand trains from the south.

After electrification, there is a strong possibility the second hand trains in question will be Class 319 trains currently used on the Thameslink route in the south between Brighton and Bedford.

Commuters and travellers alike will pay more to travel, but with the potential of more choice and better services, this looks like an acceptable peace offering.

Over the months and years ahead, Blog Preston will be tracking the announcements and delays affecting rail users from Preston. We will be getting comment from local people, businesses and rail users.

You will be the first to know.

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