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 314.

    Public transport in private hands, whether trains or buses, will always be run purely for profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    Havent they been the favoured means of transport of the priviliged in society for quite some time? No chance of an oik sitting next to you because they cant afford to get on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    The problem is that the cost base of the railways is way higher than in the rest of Europe, largely due to train drivers being over paid and their being no incentive to their employers to keep costs down.

    A better solution would be for the government to tell the rail companies that the regulated fairs will be based on the average cost of running a European railway, rather than the current UK cost

  • Comment number 311.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    My local MP also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Transport so I thought it appropriate to write to him asking why local rail fares were so inequitable.
    His response pretty much said that its complicated and I wouldnt understand it. It didnt fill me with confidence that we have the right people in place to resolve this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Privatisation of utilities and transport was the worst thing to happen. Instead of customer focus, these companies are more focussed on fattening their shareholders' wallets.

    The "rich-man" gets a seat, a table, a lamp free drinks and a plug for his laptop. The average man is lucky to get a seat in his sardine tin!

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    I'm sick to the teeth of Tories /New Labour / Lib Dem who do not give a damn about an affordable, decent transport system. As long as they are looking after the elite they really do could not care less.

    Philip Hammonds 'slip of the tongue' gives a glimpse of their real feelings about the railways.

    Disgusting, corrupt, and in the pockets of big business. We need an Arab spring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Who does this man (the minister) think he is kidding, nobody, we all know the high new speed train london - Birmingham will never go beyond there as it will be too expensive, and another 50 billion of taxpayers money down the drain, another Tory south of england vanity project
    What about the rest of the UK, we simply need a decent public transport network, never mind high speed...............

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Fix capacity by removing the 1st class carriages and adding extra carriages, if need be make the platforms longer

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Just for the record, Thatcher positively didn't want anything to do with Railway Reform. Others did.
    As for running railways to make money, why did they need a 6bn gift last year? Railways are of limited use. But that use is great.

    BTW, HS2 would use the same electricity in one run in one direction as an average family home uses over three months. Never mind the building costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    Frankly, what is the point of this man Philip Hammond?
    Another know-nothing, do-nothing waste of space, tinkering with something about which he neither knows nor cares.
    Please would English people stop listening to the Murdoch press who simply wish to smash all that's good in this country vis:

    Public schools
    The railways
    The post office

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Pragmatism. Whatever their political allegiances, politicians have to recognize that there are some sectors where the market can make a good job and some others where the market will do a poor job. Energy and railways are sectors that have clearly demonstrated for a long time now that the market will do a poor job for them. Politicians have to be pragmatical and take decisions for the common good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    If the government is serious in having people use public transport rather than cars, then the public transport alternative should be affordable. From where I live it appears to be too close to London (50 minutes by train) for the rail companies to offer affordable tickets. They attempt to milk the income from those that commute and out price other potential customers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    @296 - Except that your Sales Director might bring in more business that can keep you in fake tans and Sky+ boxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Its easy to make cheap political points that privatisation is not working or that BR services were poor and both are true to some extent. The issue we need to address without political bias is why we cannot run efficient railways that take freight off the busy roads and are affordable and comfortable forpassengers to use? France, Italy,Germany, Sweden all manage it. Why can't we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Crikey, a minister answering a honest question with a honest answer ! Whatever next ? Never been on a train for ages and it is the high prices putting me off with an innate reluctance to book weeks in advance on case my plans change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    The main reason that the railways were savaged by Beeching had nothing to do of course with the fact that the then Transport Minister Ernest Marples, was a director of Marples Ridgway the company that built the MI motorway. No of course not the Tory party don't do things like that do they? Followed by Rail privatisation by Thatcher, no connection of cause about the style of government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    Did Mr Hammond give the first blow to HS2? This does not look like an own goal, more like the first positive admission that he will have to reluctantly renounce to this stupid plan (but he would not say that immediately). Sounds more positive than it seems. Let's see how it goes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    "If you are a factory worker from Manchester you might never get on HS2 but you will certainly be benefiting from it, if the sales director of your company is routinely hopping on it to meet customers, to jet round the world from Heathrow..."

    The factory worker can get the bus home to his bird with the fake tan and a Sky+ box.

    What remarkable rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    By now it's clear that the privatisation of our rail services has brought many disadvantages. Basically we have a few tiers of senior managers with easy jobs getting paid a fortune for doing badly whilst the user gets fleeced. How about a system where prices and investment levels are set by the government and the operators must achieve much greater levels of efficiency if they want to be rich.


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