Trains are a rich man's toy, says transport secretary


Philip Hammond says trains have become a "rich man's toy"

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British railways are a "rich man's toy", Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has told MPs.

He was responding to a question about regulating fare prices on the planned high speed rail link so that it would be a "railway for everybody".

He said it was an "uncomfortable fact" that trains were already used by the better-off and said some fares were "eye-wateringly expensive".

Labour blamed Mr Hammond for allowing rail fares to "rocket".

Commuter season tickets are set to rise by about 8% on average next year - an above-inflation increase which is part of the government's plan to reduce the cost of the rail network to the public purse.

'Ripple effect'

Mr Hammond appeared before the Commons transport committee on Tuesday to answer questions on High Speed 2 (HS2) - the planned line between London and Birmingham with a possible future extension to northern England and Scotland.

He was asked by Labour MP Julie Hilling whether HS2 would become a "rich person's toy" unavailable to "people of low or moderate means".

She said: "Can you assure people that actually, it's going to be a railway for everybody, and what will happen about regulating fare prices, etc?"

Start Quote

People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole - simple fact”

End Quote Philip Hammond Transport Secretary

Mr Hammond replied: "Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man's toy - the whole railway.

"People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole - simple fact."

He said it was assumed HS2 would use "similar pricing to the West Coast Mainline, which I have said before ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable, if you dig around and use the advance purchase ticket options that are available".

The assumption was that the "socio-economic mix" of HS2 passengers would be similar to those using that route and that the "ripple effects" of High Speed 2 would spread across the economy.

The transport secretary later told the BBC he had not been talking about the cost of rail tickets but had answered a question about whether HS2 would be a rich man's toy "perhaps slightly flippantly" and had pointed out that people who used the railways were usually better off than average workers.

'Slightly flippantly'

"Is the railway expensive? Yes it is. Is that because we have too high costs in our railway? Yes it is and the government is determined that with the rail companies and Network Rail we will tackle excessive costs in the railway and get the costs of running our railway down so it becomes more affordable for taxpayers and fare payers alike."

Start Quote

Far from being simply 'a rich man's toy' trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work”

End Quote Stephen Joseph Campaign for Better Transport

The government changed the formula for calculating rail fare increases from 2012.

For the past few years the formula for fare increases has generally been RPI inflation plus 1%, but for the next three years it is RPI plus 3% - pushing the cost of season tickets up by an average of 8% in the new year.

Stephen Joseph, of the Campaign for Better Transport said: "Philip Hammond's description of rail fares as 'eye-watering' must lead the minister to reconsider the steep fare rises currently planned by government.

"Far from being simply 'a rich man's toy' trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work, and the government will price many off the railways if it carries on with its plan to increases rail fares at three per cent above inflation over the next few years."

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said: "The real reason that our railway is becoming a rich man's toy is Philip Hammond's decision to allow rail fares to rocket by an average of 8% every year.

"This increasingly out-of-touch government has no idea of the cost of living crisis facing families up and down the country and the impact these rises are having on household budgets."

But train companies said they played a "key role" in the British economy, supporting jobs and businesses.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "We get millions of passengers from A to B every day - people from all backgrounds who travel on a range of different tickets.

"The average price paid for a single journey comes in at around £5 and the sale of cheap advance tickets has doubled in the last few years, with almost a million sold every week.

Virgin Trains, which runs services on the West Coast mainline, told the BBC there was a "wider range of value fares than ever before" on their services.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    I might be one of the most highly qualified people in this country, but trains are ... along with a lot of experiences in the UK, not an option unless there is no other option. The railway is not a choice of preference and now, I resist travelling within the UK because of the cost and inconvenience. The UKs travel infrastructure is detrimental to its economic revival. Look to India why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    "This is why having infrastructure owned and run by the government to ensure surplus is produced is a good idea even if the government is technically less efficient."

    And what does "efficiency" *mean* with the railways? There's no market, I can't choose supplier when I go from A to B and it's hardly a complex service. What has privatisation done for the passenger exactly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    The proposed HS2 network is going to cost many Billions, in truth this will provide very little benefit for the vast majority of people. What about improving our current rail infrastructure? We're going to spend this money during a period when we cannot afford to police our streets or look after our old. It really is madness, this should not be a priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.


    Bring Back British Rail !! It may of had its critics but the system worked, I worked for if so I know."

    I'm sorry, BR was terrible in its last decades. I know, I had to catch a train every day. It's far better now and there's much less risk of dying in a train crash than there used to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Why does Philip Hammond think that his hypothetical MD from Manchester would jump on the HS2 train to go to Heathrow when he could and probably would use Manchester airport? HS2 is just an ego-trip project and is unaffordable given the state of public finances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    We should be asking why our railways are so expensive. We are still paying the cost of decades of underspending by successive governments when the railways were nationalised. But there are also the twin problems of over-manning and inefficiencies due to the lingering power of the trade unions in the industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    HS2 will not create jobs in the North West. Previous research has shown that a better local service between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle etc would be a far better use of far less money.

    The HS2 business case is weak even before more realistic assumptions are built into it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    I recently started an apprenticeship in Brighton, It is £10.60 per day to get in from where I live. I can't drive and the bus takes so long. Commuters are being held to ransom already, we do not need a fare increase.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    How can Mr Hammond's Manchester businessman benefit from a faster train to Heathrow if the two runways don't allow for enough flights for him to get the plane journey he wants. Pure madness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    One reason that trains are so expensive, I think, is that the technology is locked down by a relatively small number of "specialists". It is ancient technology of 1970s standard. These people just milk very high salaries to keep this ancient tech going and resist any upgrade, which would make it cheaper using wails of "safety case" whenever anything new and cheaper is proposed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    The answer to the Minister's dilemma is simple ... and this comes from a lifelong Conservative.

    Tell him to 'get a grip. The railways are by the people and they should be for the people.

    We should build new rolling stock that allows for more to travel; then re-nationalise the railways ... or this Government will NEVER be re-elected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I travel to London regularly from Newcastle but I haven't been able to afford the train for years. If you need any flexibility in your travel times/dates, then fares become ridiculous. If I try pricing it up, it's always less than half for me to drive. Environmentally, this is mad; a single car occupant burning fuel for a round trip of 600 miles as opposed to sat on a train.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    #155 kaybreas "Why should the rest of us pay for services we have no access to ?": I have no access to job-seekers allowance (because I work): why should I pay for that? I have no access to the coastguard (because I live inland): why should I pay for that? I have no access to school education (because I'm an adult): why should I pay for that? Completely flawed and ridiculous argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I can travel door to door on my own to Hull and back each day for £17 in petrol yet the train journey along with a few hundred others and sometimes standing is £27 and is a 5 mile drive to the starting station and a 1 mile walk to work at the other end, its a no brainer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Try looking at this web site - really very interesting

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Minister! Each Minimiser! Lost in transits’! It is positive or negative marketing! But definitely it is marketing! It is for more money from common person pocket! So don't excite over it. It is lost but refined language of new or very newly appointed bureaucrats and so don't expect any miracle about any change in rail fare or relief. Because, has nothing to do with it. Catchy only! People pocket

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    "People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole - simple fact."

    Simple something, but not fact. It rhymes with "rollocks". People who use the train are not "rich" and the ludicrous prices are hitting them hard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Unless you are in a market where you can infinitely price discriminate, then the price the market will set will always price some people out of the market to maximize profits. This is why having infrastructure owned and run by the government to ensure surplus is produced is a good idea even if the government is technically less efficient. You need to choose which industries wisely of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Public transport should be public. I haven't been on a train since the last Tory government nationalized it. I took Thather's advice and bought a diesel guzzling van and now drive everywhere including to the local supermarket. Why? public transport cost me more to get to the local supermarket than it does for me to fly to Barcelona from the airport next to my house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    76. Ken MacLauchlan If BR was so good why did passenger numbers fall from its inception until it was privatised, and why have they risen ever since?

    Because everybody bought cars? I don't understand why didn't try to solve the problems BR had rather than sell off the railways to private industry. It hasn't worked, it's just wasted 20+ years of our investments that have gone into private coffers


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