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Author Topic: Why are UK rail fares so expensive?  (Read 1020 times)
Cava
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« on: June 07, 2018, 09:53:01 am »

A couple of friends of mine recently tried to book rail tickets between Plymouth and Birmingham, but were put off by the price and opted for the coach instead, which was much cheaper. They say this has happened several times before, and they would really like to travel by train, but it is just too expensive for them.

So why are UK train fares so expensive?
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broadgage
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« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2018, 11:37:56 am »

There are numerous contributory factors, that in my view include the following.

A fragmented structure whereby the trains are owned by one company, but leased to the company that operate them, whilst the track is owned and controlled by a third party.
All three are subject to varying degrees of government control.

Ever growing safety standards. Whilst we all expect a safe railway, I wonder if it is being overdone ? Examples include hugely expensive footbridges at small and lightly used stations. In most other countries passengers would simply cross the track.
And why do electrified lines now need larger clearances than those that have worked for decades ?

Ever growing provision for disabled customers. Often resulting in hugely costly modifications to existing trains when other countries might only follow the new standards for new trains.

Onerous fencing requirements. In the UK almost all railway lines must be fenced at the railways expense. In other countries the adjacent landowner erects the fence IF NEEDED AT ALL.

A blame culture that requires or expects someone to go to jail when anything goas wrong. This results in a general reluctance to make decisions. As an example, consider a teenage trespasser who is killed by climbing and touching the overhead wires. In some countries this would be regarded as their own fault.
In the UK, questions would be asked
"who designed the structure ? can we blame them"
"who signed off that this was safe, can we blame them ?"
"who last inspected the fencing, can we blame them"

And of course demands for "justice for [name of dead trespasser]"

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"When customers say that they want a seat, they dont mean they want to sit with their knees behind their ears so that 4 more can sit down. They mean that they want an extra coach so that 74 more can sit down"
"Capacity on intercity routes should be about number of vehicles, not compressing people"
IndustryInsider
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« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2018, 12:22:38 pm »

In my view Cross Country, who would operate the route you describe, are one of the worst at offering reduced price tickets - you really have to be quick to snap up anything at what I would consider 'good' value at under £50.  Compare that with a journey on GWR from Plymouth to London, which is the same distance away, and being the capital you might expect to pay more, but that's not usually the case as tickets are generally cheaper and generally much more widely available.

Cross Country has a very tight fleet operation - I would imagine their average daily seat occupancy percentage is amongst the highest in the country.  So they can fill many of their trains without having to offer many bargains, indeed many run around with standing room only at all times of the day.  Hopefully much more capacity will introduced as part of the next franchise award so that there is more scope to offer more reduced rate fares, but it is certainly not something the operator would do of its own volition.
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Sixty3Closure
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« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2018, 03:32:24 pm »

There's also cultural differences where a lot of European goverments see the benefit to society and the environment and subsidise the railways. Here in the UK (with some regional differences) there's more emphasis on their paying their way so ticket prices reflect the actual cost. Despite this dogma railtrack does get a fairly hefty handout so there are other factors as play. As broadgage says I don't think the current structure helps.
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4064ReadingAbbey
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« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2018, 07:16:25 pm »

A lot depends on the fares being compared.

The website The Man in Seat 61 <https://www.seat61.com/index.html>  has a lot of information about train travel and fares in both the UK and Abroad©. Although this article he wrote is a year or two old the general conclusions remain valid, I can recommend it <https://www.seat61.com/uk-europe-train-fares-comparison.html>
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2018, 08:54:55 pm »

Cross Country has a very tight fleet operation - I would imagine their average daily seat occupancy percentage is amongst the highest in the country.  So they can fill many of their trains without having to offer many bargains, indeed many run around with standing room only at all times of the day.  Hopefully much more capacity will introduced as part of the next franchise award so that there is more scope to offer more reduced rate fares, but it is certainly not something the operator would do of its own volition.

That's particularly true because "the operator" is Arriva, of course. Both ATW and XC were let as minimal-growth franchises and Arriva has been content to milk that - and done very nicely financially out of it. XC's HSTs, for example, have been greatly under-utilised over the length of the franchise, sitting idle for much of the week.

Contrast with FGW (as was), who, for their many faults, actually went the extra mile to get additional rolling stock over and above the initial franchise award - such as the 150/0s and the return of the 180s.
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Gregg
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« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2018, 01:22:50 pm »

Could it be because train drivers wages are ridiculously high. Advertised in Cornwall last year for a GWR driver based Penzance, which means basically driving SEMI-AUTOMATIC trains Penzance to Newton Abbot/Exeter [Like a really tough job!] - £47,000 per year start. That is absurd. It is more than many airline pilots earn on budget airlines after 5 years. Such a wage maybe warranted on stressful commuter lines & inter-city express routes although if you watch YouTube videos recorded by drivers in the driver's cab they don't seem too stressed to me. Also it staggers me that after 20 years of the internet there are still people who have never heard of booking in advance online to get cheaper tickets. Just beggars belief.
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broadgage
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« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2018, 01:45:10 pm »

Whilst train drivers wages certainly sound generous if compared to other skilled and responsible jobs, it must be said that several train companies are also struggling with driver shortages.

Some of this is IMHO, simple incompetence on the part of the companies, failure to advertise, recruit, and train drivers in good time.
However that is not the whole story, since a lot of drivers tend to leave rather than to stay until retirement. That suggests that the job is less attractive than it sounds, despite the generous salary.

Parts of the London Underground are semi automatic, as is the Docklands light railway, but I am not aware of any "semi automatic" trains on the Penzance line or indeed on any mainline.
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"When customers say that they want a seat, they dont mean they want to sit with their knees behind their ears so that 4 more can sit down. They mean that they want an extra coach so that 74 more can sit down"
"Capacity on intercity routes should be about number of vehicles, not compressing people"
chuffed
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« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2018, 05:49:55 pm »

Just on a point of comparison. Had this in an email from a friend today ...

Enjoyed Spanish Railways immensely, especially the High Speed train from Madrid to Alicante (1st Class, including Hot Breakfast and drinks was only
89 Euros for the 2 of us with luggage. Two hours 16 minutes and arrived  on the dot).
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2018, 09:06:25 am »

Whilst train drivers wages certainly sound generous if compared to other skilled and responsible jobs, it must be said that several train companies are also struggling with driver shortages.

Some of this is IMHO, simple incompetence on the part of the companies, failure to advertise, recruit, and train drivers in good time.
However that is not the whole story, since a lot of drivers tend to leave rather than to stay until retirement. That suggests that the job is less attractive than it sounds, despite the generous salary.

Parts of the London Underground are semi automatic, as is the Docklands light railway, but I am not aware of any "semi automatic" trains on the Penzance line or indeed on any mainline.

Looking at other comparable jobs (ie coach drivers, HGV drivers, who arguably face much more stress on the motorways), train drivers are exceptionally well rewarded, not just in terms of salary but benefits, holidays, working hours etc as well - I'd suggest that this is a legacy of powerful and militant trade unions who possess a great deal of leverage, not least the ability to bring London and South East England to a grinding halt - this also applies to LU drivers.

This is likely to evaporate within the next 20-30 years however as driverless technology moves in so perhaps it's a case of making hay whilst the sun shines.

It'd be interesting to see the demographic and destinations of those who are leaving the industry early, is it mostly older guys who've had enough and are able to retire early, younger guys who feel they've made the wrong decision, and for those in the middle, what sort of jobs do they move on to?




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4064ReadingAbbey
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« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2018, 11:14:48 am »

This debate on drivers' pay waxes and wanes but is it based on a misunderstanding that there exists a 'correct' rate of pay for any given job as if there were a hierarchy of jobs or occupations or vocations the pay for which depends on the position of any particular job in the hierarchy.

A moment's thought will demonstrate that such a hierarchy cannot exist for all sorts of reasons unless pay scales are fixed by a national central authority.

Pay rates and employment conditions are the result of supply and demand - within the frameworks set by common and statute law. In BR's days staff were poorly paid - so much so that in the 1950s and early 60s Government investigations showed that the pay of some was under the the (then) poverty level. In one year there were two significant pay increases ordered by Government. One of the main reasons for the low pay was that BR was the only employer (a monopsony) of railway staff so faced no competition.

One of the enormous benefits of privatisation from the point of view of railway staff was that an employment market was opened up and staff could take their skills elsewhere if they wished. The result was that pay rates became comparable with other industries.

One of the results of there being a single employer - essentially the Government in a nationalised business - is that the staff need an effective counterweight. This is supplied by strong and effective trades unions - which, by the way, is why only national and local governmental businesses have effective staff unions, in the private sector unions have almost ceased to exist.

Given the existence of the trades unions as the TOCs were set up as franchises it took little time for the unions to work out a modus operandi - being the good free marketeers that they are - to get the best deal for their members. This modus operandi was based on three premises (a) the limited life of a franchise meaning it had no long term interests, (b) the financial pressures the franchises were under to either reduce their subsidy or increase the premiums paid making them amenable to pressure and (c) the situation that any pay increase granted by one franchisee would be rolled forward to be included in the base case in the bids for the successor franchise. It was a one-way ratchet.

So, train drivers are not overpaid - they are paid what the market will bear - and the trades unions are only doing what they are there for.

And I am not sure that many people who rail against drivers' pay would really like the conditions. Shifts that can start in the middle of the night; many hours of solitude at the same time requiring concentration; shaking, moving sometimes vibrating and noisy surroundings; tasks which are often very repetitive; a good memory and sense of spatial awareness; knowledge of and understanding reams of procedures and ability to fault find while under time pressure. Finding people who are a good match to these requirements is, I suggest, not easy.

And to give a sense of scale, according to the ORR's figures for 2016-17 total expenditure by the franchised train operators in GB (i.e., excluding Northern Ireland) was £12.6bn of which staffing, including train drivers, made up 23% for a total of £2.9bn. So drivers' pay - while significant - is by no means the largest contributor to the TOCs' costs.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2018, 11:25:06 am by 4064ReadingAbbey » Logged
Electric train
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« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2018, 11:46:08 am »

The reason rail fares are so high compared with other countries in Europe is purely down to Government policy.

HMG since Beeching (and before) has been the railways in the UK must pay their way as such HMG has set about making the users (passengers) pay a larger and large proportion of the operating costs.

This forum moans when trains are cancelled due to a shortage of drivers I guess we could squeeze down on pay for drivers, signallers, engineering staff and all of the other staff that make the UK railways the safest in Europe and make no mistake the UK railways are the most intensely used in Europe, and we copuld religate our railways to being less safe, permanatly reduce the number of services to perhaps to core commuter routes into the major cities
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2018, 02:46:28 pm »


One of the enormous benefits of privatisation from the point of view of railway staff was that an employment market was opened up and staff could take their skills elsewhere if they wished. The result was that pay rates became comparable with other industries.


Which other industries?
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4064ReadingAbbey
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« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2018, 11:21:37 am »


One of the enormous benefits of privatisation from the point of view of railway staff was that an employment market was opened up and staff could take their skills elsewhere if they wished. The result was that pay rates became comparable with other industries.


Which other industries?
A basket of 'other industries'. Not all positions in the TOCs, in particular, or 'the railway', in general, are directly concerned with running trains.
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2018, 12:51:00 pm »


One of the enormous benefits of privatisation from the point of view of railway staff was that an employment market was opened up and staff could take their skills elsewhere if they wished. The result was that pay rates became comparable with other industries.


Which other industries?
A basket of 'other industries'. Not all positions in the TOCs, in particular, or 'the railway', in general, are directly concerned with running trains.

Ah OK. The detail would be interesting, if only to establish which other driving jobs pay an annual salary in the region of £50,000 🙂
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