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Opinion: Are rail price hikes un-fare?

Posted on - 3rd January, 2011 - 3:23pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Transport
Long walk for improvements at Preston station - (c)JohnnyEnglish on Flickr

Long walk for improvements at Preston station - (c)JohnnyEnglish on Flickr

Another set of inflation busting rises in the cost of train travel in austere times and small or no pay increases means higher prices implemented by our train operating companies look criminal.

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There is no respite for season ticket holders as prices go up but regular and occasional users can still deflect the impact of rises, notably if they book in advance on long distance travel.

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But the debate over higher prices and poor services rumbles on. Consumer groups still accuse rail operators of profit pocketing.

Underneath the face value prices we pay online, onboard and at the ticket offices various stakeholders take their entitled fraction of the price of a ticket.

In reality, decade long under-investment in the railways – mismanagement, incompetence and political policy has resulted in the situation we are in today.

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Before Britain’s railways were privatised, nationalisation starved the network of investment, and ever since privatisation, numerous operators have been playing catch up, although a few companies have failed along the way.

The most relevant example, and glaringly obvious for Blog Preston readers is the state of which Preston Railway Station has fallen into.

So bad was the state of the station, it was identified as one of the 10 worst stations in the country.

And not to mention the incredible paradox of modern and fast rolling stock used by Virgin Trains on the West Coast compared to the increasingly unreliable and ageing rolling stock used on commuter routes in the North West region on Northern Rail, with the exception of TransPennine Express services.

No matter how bleak the soaring figures seem, the reality is, rail operators make very small profits on a heavily regulated privatised industry.

Passengers demand better as services become increasingly overcrowded and Preston becomes more important in the next decade as a rail hub for the West Coast.

Over the next two years, Preston station is set for changes under the National Stations Improvement Programme. Some much needed relief for our weary rail travellers.

Still, the rail industry is playing catch up; improvements are arriving to a platform near you shortly.

Below is a breakdown of where each pound we pay goes to (source: Association of Train Operating Companies, industry average):
48p goes to Network Rail (which charges operators to access the tracks) and other infrastructure costs
17p on staff costs
17p on miscellaneous costs (including train maintenance, administration, contractors)
11p on leasing trains
4p on fuel / energy
3p to train company profit

What is unclear is where the government take its money from operators.

What do you think about Preston train station? Do you use the trains regularly? What do you think about the North West train services to/from Preston? Let us know in the comments below

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