UK rail

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by cube, Jan 14, 2017.

  1. arkitect macrumors 603

    arkitect

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    #2
  2. zin Suspended

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    #3
    British railways are atrocious. Private companies cannot do trains without huge subsidies and even then they do it poorly.

    Let all of the franchises expire and treat it like a railway instead of a KFC business model.
     
  3. aaronvan Suspended

    aaronvan

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    #4
    Stop complaining. Europe is lucky to have such a useful and comprehensive rail network.
     
  4. cube thread starter macrumors G5

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    #5
    In the UK it is privatisation run amok.
     
  5. Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #6
    Privatisation has little to do with ticket prices really. British Rail were renowned for raising prices on busy routes so they didn't have to invest in new rolling stock to deal with growth in patronage. The last Labour Government made the decision to reduce the taxpayer contribution to the cost of running the railway - the Tories have since continued that policy to the extent that now the revenue from passengers & other sources (rent etc) nationally actually exceeds what it costs to operate services - the government are now paying only for investment in improving the railways. Some franchises pay a premium, others are paid a subsidy, but in net terms the government receives more than it pays out to train operating companies.

    The profit taken by the rail operators (including some owned by foreign governments) is about 3% of fares - if we re-nationalised, that would mean fares would be held for just 1 year before increasing again.

    I use the East Coast Main Line, which was temporarily run by a government agency until Virgin won the franchise in 2015. The govt agency paid a premium of £1bn over 5 years - VTEC is due to pay £3.3bn over 8 years & is far more aggressive & adept in generating growth than its state owned predecessor. In addition to paying a much higher premium, they have also extensively refurbished their fleet & introduced new services. They just ran a half price seat sale and I got 2 first class weekday single tickets from London to Newcastle for £27 each (leaving London at midday). That fare includes complimentary food & alcohol, as well as free wifi.

    Despite the high fares, patronage on the railways has more than doubled over the past 10 years or so. While the fares may be high, clearly people are willing to pay them. Again, VTEC are increasing market share compared to air - as did their sister company on the WCML, so there's clearly a willingness to pay the fares. Local trains in the north are similarly increasing in use & are about to have a major fleet renewal. In the time I have commuted on the services, they have got noticeably busier despite fares having increased by 10% over the past 3 years or so.
     
  6. aaronvan Suspended

    aaronvan

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    #8
    I rode British Rail from John O'Groats to Land's End. It was always on-time, comfortable, and simply a pleasure.
     
  7. steve23094, Jan 14, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017

    steve23094 macrumors 68020

    steve23094

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    #9
    You expect me to fly to work? A lot of the time there is no other practical alternative.
    --- Post Merged, Jan 14, 2017 ---
    Well British Rail hasn't 'existed' since 2001. A lot has changed since then.
     
  8. Moccasin, Jan 14, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017

    Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #10
    The countries with the lower fares generally have the higher subsidies. Germany pays €17bn against our €4.5bn - nearly four times as much, while France pays their railways ~3x our subsidy. If we want fares at similar levels to those in Europe we'd have to pay a much higher subsidy and that means higher taxes or less spending on other things. Given less than 10% of UK population use rail regularly, increasing taxes to subsidise rail users (who are generally in the higher income brackets anyway) may seem unfair when spending is tight and our NHS is close to breaking point.

    If we lowered fares, then our train services are likely to be even more overcrowded and that would require even greater investment in new capacity to cope with demand - our rail network is already bursting at the seams and our Victorian forebears left us legacies of smaller loading gauges (precluding easy use of double decker trains) and constrained city centre termini whose platforms can't be extended easily for longer trains. Any fix is therefore very expensive as it generally means building new tracks & flyovers and this is always disruptive during construction - hence recent problems at London Bridge for Thameslink. Our planning laws make it even more tricky to expand the network (though (government owned) Network Rail is probably the least cost efficient element of the entire rail jigsaw).

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_subsidies

    One last point - without wishing to tempt fate, the last fatality of a passenger in a train accident was in February 2007. Before then there was a depressing trend of fatal rail accidents pretty much every year, both in nationalised and privatised eras. So the last 10 years have seen no passenger fatalities, which is an amazing achievement & down to the hard work of the whole industry at all levels. A significant element of the cost of our railways is associated with running trains safely.


    --- Post Merged, Jan 14, 2017 ---
    Nope - just making the point that even where there is choice, people are often increasingly using the train. Do you expect those who don't use the railways - about 90% of the population- to pay more to subsidise your travel? Total cost if running trains in this country is about £14bn, of which the taxpayer funds about £4bn & the passengers funds the rest. Profit to rail companies is less than 3% of that according to Office of Rail & Road. Lower fares means the subsidy has to increase to make up the shortfall. So either taxes go up or we divert spending from elsewhere.
     
  9. steve23094, Jan 14, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017

    steve23094 macrumors 68020

    steve23094

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    #11
    Well if, as you say, 90% of the population don't use trains they clearly aren't choosing to use them when alternatives are available.

    If you want to go down that route then WTF am I paying tax to subsidise schools for? I wasn't educated in this country, don't have kids and never will have. There are countless services I pay for that I don't use.

    It sounds suspiciously like you work in the industry. Or maybe you just love trains.
     
  10. cube thread starter macrumors G5

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  11. aaronvan Suspended

    aaronvan

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    #14
    It was back in the 1980s. I understand that everything in the U.K. got worse after Thatcher left office.
     
  12. Eraserhead macrumors G4

    Eraserhead

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    #15
    Not really...

    Unless you mean house prices.
     
  13. The-Real-Deal82 macrumors 603

    The-Real-Deal82

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    #16
    Wow, you experienced something many of our residents have never experienced!
     
  14. Moccasin, Jan 15, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017

    Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #17
    Well the overcrowded trains that have doubled in patronage in the past 10 years while fares have increased show that people are increasingly using trains from the low base of the 1980s - when the Tories considered closing much of our network (google Serpell report). Privatisation was designed around a system that was declining in use, but the continued growth has put massive pressure on the system since. In many cases, people don't have the option of using the train - we have the Beeching closures and other government policies in the 60s & 70s to thank for that. Now, rail lines closed in the 60s & 70s are being reopened slowly (& expensively) to correct some of the excesses & mistakes of that period. Oxford to Cambridge is likely to be the next high profile line to reopen, although HS2 phase 1 may open first.

    Far more use education & health services and the governments have taken a decision to reduce rail subsidy. Thankfully they are also spending £bns per year investing in upgrading the network after years of underinvestment, but are more happy to do that when the rail operations are now largely self-sufficient financially.

    That said, I fully take your point that you can apply the same argument to everything, as you can turn it on it's head and argue why should you pay for subsidising a rail line in northern England that you'll never use. The past few governments have determined level of priority of funding for national services and know that overall, investing in education & health has a higher priority (and number of votes) than subsidising rail services. It is partly down to economics of supply & demand of course - as long as people are willing to pay those high fares then they'll continue to go up. It's only when passengers start voting with their feet en masse & deciding not to pay them that rail companies & governments will take note. As long as patronage continues to go up, they can point to the fact that increasing numbers of people ARE willing to pay the high fares.

    I don't work in the industry (sadly) but yes I do have an interest in railways - wasn't aware that was a crime.
     
  15. vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #18
    That certainly may be true. But it is also worth considering how much the Government pays to build and maintain the road network. And as many rail customers don't even own cars, the Government has something of an obligation to them.

    As I'm sure you are aware, Britain's roads are extremely congested. If you consider the fact that every person using the train to travel from one part of Britain to another means one less car on the road, then the mere existence of the railroad could be considered a public good. There is also the fact that in addition to road congestion, parking is itself limited in many British towns and cities. Unlike airports, it is practical to place railway stations right in a city center, meaning that people using the train can literally walk from the train carriage to their destination - be it an office, a shop, or a hotel.

    Lastly, the rail network provides an invaluable resource to the millions of people in Britain who can't drive, due to either age or medical conditions. Without access to clean, safe, and reliable public transportation, literally millions of people in Britain would find themselves cut off from family and other social contacts.

    I'm personally an enthusiastic user of private motor vehicles. But I have to say that there are many, many instances when high-quality public transportation is far more practical. Where the experience in British rail travel breaks down is the extremely high cost of many journeys and the frankly dreadful service you can end up with in peak periods, or when there is some form of network failure.
     
  16. Three141 macrumors 6502

    Three141

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    #19
    Bonkers; but I can't see how it will ever change.

    Sometimes i see roles for interesting companies I would take, but unreliability and cost of trains is what prohibits me, all I can say is thank God for the peddle bike!
     
  17. juanm, Jan 15, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017

    juanm macrumors 65816

    juanm

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    #20
    Really, a lot got worse as a consequence of Thatcher's policies, and subsequent administrations have been left to deal with the housing mess.

    She took a social housing policy that kept prices low and built the foundation (Housing act 1980) for what ended up being the housing price bubble we are now in. I guess everything seemed peachy at first but thirty years in its consequences are obvious.
     
  18. Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #21
    Yep there's a lot to be improved still but that's again partly due to the continued growth in passengers. New trains are being introduced, more are on order and new infrastructure being built to allow longer & more frequent trains is under construction or planned.

    I go to work by train on pacer trains - bus-style coach bodies mounted on freight wagon chassis that were built by BR in the 80s and should have been scrapped years ago. Northern have brand new trains on order to replace them but I won't get to use them - we'll get late 80s/early 90s era trains cascaded from other parts of the network. Meanwhile in the SE, trains introduced only a few years ago are being replaced by brand new trains. We still have Victorian era semaphore signals on part of the line.

    There's a huge backlog in renewals of old infrastructure and the recent floods etc over the past few years have diverted some Network Rail resources into repairing the damage caused - Dover to Folkestone line was blocked for a major reconstruction last year and part of the Settle Carlisle line is only just about to be re-opened after over a year of closure to rebuild a hillside/embankment supporting the railway which collapsed when the river at the bottom eroded its base. Thameslink & Crossrail are nearly complete in London and the old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo are due to be opened for commuters in the next year or so, to allow trains to be increased in length as well as more trains to run.

    There's still lots to be done but these improvements have to be paid for & successive governments have deemed that these should be largely paid for by the user.

    Road improvements are on the way too but they take almost as long to go through planning & design as rail improvements do.
     
  19. Brookzy macrumors 601

    Brookzy

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    #22
    It's a shame that in conversation and in the media all train services in the UK are lumped together in one big group.

    Credit ought to be given to stand-out lines: routes between London and the midlands on the West Coast Main Line should be the poster-children for privatisation with genuine competition between operators such as London Midland and Virgin delivering a good service at a fair price.

    Really, Virgin has been shafted by successive governments after they invested in 140 mph Pendolinos expecting the WCML modernisation plan to go ahead - which then got cancelled limiting the track to 125 mph. Not to mention the botched contract tendering in 2013/14 that was going to take the franchise off them, punishing good performance!

    Conclusion: privatisation isn't always bad but the rogue operators need to be shown the carrot and the stick ASAP.
     
  20. Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #23
    Railtrack were probably one of the mistakes of privatisation and the WCML upgrade was one of their worst projects - they made a lot of experienced engineers redundant and lost a lot of knowledge about asset condition which Network Rail are still recovering from now. Railtrack saw themselves more as a property company than an operator of rail infrastructure. The horrific accidents that occurred in the 2000s were mostly a result of poor maintenance than the usual operational errors.

    Some franchises are better than others. National Express were poor & Govia have been quite disappointing even before the current problems at Southern. Virgin/Stagecoach have done well despite infrastructure problems while Chiltern have often spent their own money investing in the line between Marylebone & Birmingham. Some franchises would do even better if they weren't constrained by the government being overly prescriptive and micro managing. The Govt blame the franchises when things go wrong and take the credit when things go well.

    I fear that the new trains for GWR & Virgin East Coast that were designed by civil servants at DfT will be another prine example of excessive project cost & poor performance that don't actually meet passenger needs. The NAO were very critical of the whole project.
     
  21. steve23094 macrumors 68020

    steve23094

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    #24
    It's not a crime, but it means your opinions on the subject will be coloured by rose tinted glasses.
     
  22. Moccasin, Jan 15, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017

    Moccasin macrumors 6502a

    Moccasin

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    #25
    It's not looking through rose tinted glasses to repeat publicly announced policy by the last 3 governments to increase the proportion of rail costs paid by passengers and reduce taxpayer costs. I'd love for the government to subsidise rail more but am realistic that it is not going to happen when both Labour & Tories want to reduce money paid by the taxpayer to the railways.

    I agree that our railways could be much better but many of the problems being experienced now are a result of past underinvestment which they're trying to catch up with. Unfortunately it's difficult to upgrade the railway when it's so busy - any work to upgrade generally means cancelling services.

    For example there's a major blockade planned at Waterloo in the summer to create more capacity to run more, longer trains but that can't be done without closing most of the station, and that can only be done when commuter passenger demand is lowest - usually over Christmas or summer. They have announced the blockade months in advance to allow passengers to plan around the disruption - otherwise it would take years to complete the work, when they'd only get 4-5 hours every night.
     

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