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Train Fares - Taken for a Ride?

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Caroline Mallan | 16:43 UK time, Monday, 23 January 2012

Packed in like sardines, on trains that often arrive late - that is life on some of Britain's busiest train routes.

Adding to the pain are record-level ticket prices that just went up.

So why are train fares so expensive? Panorama's Vivian White investigates the cost of riding on the railway.

Please use this forum to tell us your views on tonight's programme. We welcome your thoughts.


  • Comment number 1.

    Network rail said HS2 is needed because upgrading existing lines would not provide enough capacity. Given their woeful lack of openness over costs, makes you wonder if they're to be trusted at all.

  • Comment number 2.

    This was a very unbalanced view of the railways in Great Britain. There has been significant investment in the railways in recent years ; improved reliability, better rolling stock and faster journey times. The presenter was determined to paint the worst possible picture of our railways and I wonder whether he has ever travelled in Europe away from the premium service main lines !

  • Comment number 3.

    . very poor programme.. concentrated on the south, nothing from the north.#
    Also why no data produced or sought on the amount of money taken out of the industry as profit payments to shareholders. That money could be saved immediately

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Panorama has taken a really unfair position putting all the blame for Britain's dysfunctional railways by blaming network rail while taking advice from the same self serving conservative 'privatise everything' politicians who have created the mess in the first place. If we want to complain about the cost of the railways then it might be best to question why the decision was made to privatise the profitable part (i.e. actually running the trains and taking fares) and leave the costly, difficult and complex part (i.e. what network rail do - maintaining a complicated infrastructure) to be picked up for the tax payer. The £4 billion cost of maintaining the railways paid by the taxpayer would be greatly offset if the fares paid were not swept into private profits.

  • Comment number 5.

    A golden opportunity missed by Vivian White.
    It was so ironic listening to the comments of Stephen Norris on cost overruns like Rugby.
    At the time this job was being mis-managed he was chairman of the main contractor and has a better idea than most of where the overspend went!
    Definitely worthy of further investigation in the public interest.

  • Comment number 6.

    Quite a reasonable programme with some entertaining 'punters' but as ever no real-life conclusions, a few knights, politicians and captains of industry were gently warmed (hardly grilled) but more importantly the question asked over and over again 'why does it cost 30% more in the UK than the rest of Europe' was NEVER answered ... maybe the profits are going to the shareholders and they demand dividends - this angle was never examined !

    What has happened to Panorama ... as toothless as the 'Watchdog'.

    Roger Burton

  • Comment number 7.

    Tried to book a Transpenine second class ticket from Liverpool to Leeds for next Friday with a colleague.
    The cheapest price return was £120 per person.
    My wife suggested I am better of taking the money from my wallet and burning it.
    I will be driving.
    Shame on them...

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    We hear a lot about fuel poverty in the press, but I believe we are already suffering from another type of poverty wrought by privatisation - fare poverty.
    I spend far more than 10% of my salary on train fares - the level at which one is judged to be in fuel poverty.
    With inflation-busting raises year on year, this is going to get desperate pretty soon. My season ticket from Peterborough to London costs more than my mortgage, for heavens sake!! That can't be right, surely.

  • Comment number 10.

    Marcus and all the other fans of our wonderful rail service! I travel on the Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Oxford Road line everyday at a cost of £2688 per year and this is just a snippet of the service received last year, when my fare was £175 cheaper! The period I decided to list was after I was given a verbal warning by work for being late x6 times in the space of a month, on a journey that should get me to work, door to door, with 20 minutes to spare! I did this for 2 reasons 1 to show work I wasn't making it up and 2 to complain to the service providers and network rail.

    Right in chronological order, from 16/09/11-12/12/11 the following happened.

    16/09/11 20:12 train Manchester to Liverpool arrived late at 20:39
    19/09/11 8:52 Norwich train from Liverpool set off 9:04
    03/10/11 20:04 Manchester to Liverpool train sets off at 20:08 (no big deal) but then announces that it will not be making any other stop along the route only going to Liverpool Lime Street
    04/10/11 20:12 Manchester Liverpool train arrives 20:26
    06/10/11 06:47 Norwich train CANCELLED! Have you any idea what it's like to arrive at a station at 6:35 to a cancelled train?
    27/10/11 06:47 Norwich train cancelled again!
    29/10/11 06:47 Norwich train cancelled!
    31/10/11 09:22 Scarborough train cancelled!
    08/11/11 8:52 Norwich train delayed sets of at 9:07 arrives Manchester 10:05 26 mins late!
    09/11/11 7:43 Norwich train late, announced at 7:45 that the train will not be leaving Lime Street until 08:10 even though we sat on the train from 7:45 arrived 9:17 should have arrived 08:38 39 mins late!
    09/11/11 17:11 Manchester to Liverpool arrived 17:46, then instead of going all the way to Liverpool terminated at Warrington at 18:15 and we had to squeeze on another train.
    16/11/11 07:43 Norwich train cancelled!
    16/11/11 08:13 arrived Manchester 09:07 10mins late
    07/12/11 17:11 Manchester to Liverpool arrived 17:40
    08/12/11 07:15 Scarborough train arrived 07:28
    08/12/11 17:42 Manchester to Liverpool arrived 17:56
    12/12/11 Manchester to Liverpool 20:12 arrived at 20:24

    If that's a biased view, from someone who has travelled the world and witnessed trains work perfectly in Sweden or even in the remotest spots of countries like Vietnam arrive and run on time, then call me biased as well! For £2688 per year the least I should get is on time services, a seat, a pleasant conductor. I mean for that price I should get a pillow and complimentary biscuits not a face in the window or the door, an elbow in the back squashed next to fellow commuters like sardines or the general feeling of a slap in the mouth when a train is cancelled without even the courtesy of an explanation!

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

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

  • Comment number 13.

    I think the programme was balanced, and it was trying to show that Network Rail's books were not open or transparant. I personally think that the government should call Network Rail's bluff, but there is nobody at the DfT (or Daft) - Department of Transport - who would want to shoot themselves in the foot in this method. Network Rail can see the writing on the wall, and they have now split themselves up into regions and delegated day-to-day operations to these regions. The point is - as Chiltern showed - that the TOC (Train Operating Companies) should be responsible for their own patches, but in reality (and because of monopoly rules) - this could not happen, because (in the case of Chiltern) - CrossCountry, First Great Western and the freight companies use the lines as well....further degregulation will not work - better cooperation within the current frame work will be better - and for GOODNESS SAKE - sack the bureaucrats!

  • Comment number 14.

    This was a huge opportunity wasted by the BBC, yes Network Rail need to be far more accountable, but remember Railtrack ? We needed 4 serious crashes with lives lost before that house was put in order........

    The main reason for the excessive cost is that for every journey made 4 or 5 private companies demand their pound of flesh...... they all have to make a profit for their shareholders (that is often also topped up by taxpayers subsidy !!) the average train journey requires a payment to Network Rail, the train operator, the rolling stock company, the rolling stock maintenance company and often an additional train operator if using their station.........

    This is without mentioning the extreme costs involved in franchising and consultants fees - which should be brought to the public's attention...

    In pre privatisation days, one overall cost for one overall company, if only back then they had been allowed the freedom (with a watchdog as they have now) to run a railway as they knew how to........ In the late 80's/early 90's Britain had one of the most if not the most efficient railway in the world - not anymore after meddlers like Steven Norris got involved - shame on them........ !!

  • Comment number 15.

    To NikosG: I'm not sure quite how you got to the £120 per person figure - transpennine were quoting 39.50 for a cheap day return and £43.50 for a day return - so not sure how you got your £120 per person figure.

  • Comment number 16.

    pfletch88 has summed it up perfectly! The "cost" of todays Railway has increased enormously (some say fivefold since BR) and that can ONLY be put down to the shambolic structure it now exists in. Privatisation was supposed to bring in competition...where? The Country is split geographically into regional/area cash cows for Private Companies. Privatisation was supposed to weaken the Unions....how? They are now stronger than ever and play off different Operators. Privatisation was supposed to introduce Private Sector "efficiencies"....when? Look at the enormous increase in costs everywhere.

    Dreamers proclaim that the Railway is now vastly improved. It was improving in the latter years of British Rail with Business Sectors, even with a fraction of the subsidy awarded now. They also claim the growth is from Privatisation. Nothing to do with overcrowded roads and the soaring cost of fuel then?

    Stephen Norris is truly the expert to use, having been a disaster in Political roles and the Chairman of a failed Infrastructure Company - which co-incidentally was involved in the featured Rugby overspend!! His credibility is zero and when he stated that "all Parties agree that Privatisation was for the best", I nearly choked. Just shows what a dream state these clowns live in. Commercial disciplines are always beneficial but not brought in in such a shambolic and inefficient model. It is true to say that given the incredible amounts of money that have been poured into the Industry during and through Privatisation, BR would have created a superb network.

    In summary I was disappointed at the lack of proper investigation and credible focus of this Programme. As stated by another blogger, "as much teeth as the Watchdog!". There is scandalous self-serving financial waste all over the Railway Industry, way beyond Network Rail, but totally missed by the programme. Shame!

  • Comment number 17.

    Last night's programme was only the tip of the iceberg. What never seems to hit the headlines are the excessive pay rises that the rail unions still command for their members despite part of the train operating companies income being provided by the taxpayers. Like many other workers Local Government staff have had to contend with a pay freeze now for two years so how can rail workers still demand and get large rises on an annual basis. I hate to think what the directors of the TOCS receive. Perhaps they should be required to publish salaries on station notice boards.

    Secondly the government make a big thing about part of the fare rises being for new rolling stock. Try suggesting that to passengers on the Great Eastern Main Line who have to travel in inter city carriages now over 30 years old or electric multiple units with two plus three seating and only one toilet that are used for journeys of up to 80/90 minutes. As far as I am aware no new rolling stock is planned to be introduced on the GE Line during the next few years so why have commuters in Norfolk/Suffolk and Essex had to suffer the same rises as areas where new trains are being introduced?

    Perhaps Panorama should consider making a second programme on the subject.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree this program was a real disappointment. I'm trying to find a balanced study on this subject. Can anyone point me in a reasonable direction.

  • Comment number 19.

    The programme this week was in my opinion extremely disappointing and one sided. I work in the industry, but I also commute to work by train at my cost, and understand the frustrations of train delays. However, we have not only an old, but also an historic railway in terms of the architechture it displays, and the feats of engineering which it is proud of. It should be remembered that when maintaining this infrastructure, it is often necessary to obtain listed building consent which takes time. It should also be remembered that if many of the lines cut from service during the times of Dr Beeching were still in exitence, then we in the UK would benefit from the availability of diversionary routes on which to run trains while engineering works are carried out. In the UK we are restricted (typically) to blocks of 8, 16, 29, 52, 72 and 100 hours in which to carry out works and we have to fight for this access with extensive justification. The fact is that we cannot replace or maintain our aging structures if we do not have access. However, when you compare us to our European cousins, who benefit from the availability of diversionary routes and the luxury of being able to close the railway for 1-2 weeks at a time to carry out works. This only demonstrates that here in the UK we have the drive and skills to delivery works quickly and to a high quality. There are exceptions to this rule, where works overrun but with the extensive pre planning and contingency measures which are now implemented as standard, the focus really is on making sure that the railway can operate on a Monday morning, making overruns of engineering works far more of a rare occurrance than they have been in the past.

  • Comment number 20.

    17 johnm123 wrote:

    Secondly the government make a big thing about part of the fare rises being for new rolling stock. Try suggesting that to passengers on the Great Eastern Main Line who have to travel in inter city carriages now over 30 years old or electric multiple units with two plus three seating and only one toilet that are used for journeys of up to 80/90 minutes.

    I was amazed there was no connect between the £17billion the government now plans to spend on the London-Birmingham HS2 route while so many other areas of the country's rail routes and services are dire and overpriced. Heaven knows how much fares will be on that one - somewhere heavenward I should think.

  • Comment number 21.

    Panorama mentioned Chiltern Rail in exemplary terms as to its achievements with updating everything, seemingly without Network Rail having to be involved.
    Coming in on budget etc. Perhaps the reason for this having happened so successfully is its being owned by a division of DB !! DB of course being Deutsche Bahn, Yes, German Railways no less. Perhaps Network Rail etc., need to learn a lesson or two.
    DB also bought out albeit quietly EWS a freight division, now been renamed DB Schenker. I wonder if DB have an interest in the Dutch Company due to take over in East Anglia. How long before there is an even greater UK Involvement.

  • Comment number 22.

    thoroughly enjoyed this call for accountability amongst the various rail authorities which make up our unfair transport system. it's an issue which bugs me so much i made this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LJD74ONGK0

  • Comment number 23.

    A potentially interesting programme let down by very poor journalism, for example:

    1. As mentioned above, the involvement of 'Shagger' Norris with the debacle at Rugby as Chairman of one of the largest Contractors involved wasn't even mentioned. The viewers might also have been interested in that company's safety record...
    2. The comparison of costs between Network Rail and Chiltern for the construction of Warwick Parkway was not examined in any detail. It wasn't a fair like-for-like comparison as the station does not meet the technical standards that would be required if it were built by Network Rail.
    3. The idea that Chiltern delivered the Midland Mainline improvements by themselves, on time and to budget is a complete joke as even the most rudimentary investigation would have revealed. Why is the bbc basically broadcasting an inaccurate PR puff-piece for this company? Why did they not refer to the vast amount of UK taxpayers money going into the pockets of the German state-owned railway via the Chiltern franchise?

    NR ARE too expensive at delivering projects and are currently taking steps to address this. Unfortunately this programme went no way to shedding any significant light on this and instead focussed on trivia like that smug bloke sending his 'aren't I clever' emails.

    Very poor use of my license fee - 3/10 must try harder!

  • Comment number 24.

    Utter rubbish. Thanks for pretty much absolving the train companies of their failures. It’s doubtless that Network Rail are partially to blame, but your show did not pick up on the TOC failures. For example, First Capital Connect, operators of the Thameslink, have treated commuters with contempt from a customer service perspective. When failures occur their record on communication and getting passengers home has been a case of failure after failure. Performance figures are worked, i.e. massaged, to their benefit and neglect to include cancelled trains through lack of a driver (their inability to ensure there is a driver) and many more. So “well done” for a one sided and inaccurate representation.

  • Comment number 25.

    This was a really poor report. Apart from giving the usual lazy London-centric impression that all rail services are either London commuter services or else terminate in the far North at Rugby it simply failed to provide any context for claims of high cost.
    So this commuter pays £3,000 for an annual season ticket. What would he pay to travel by car or air? What would an equivalent commute into Paris or Berlin or New York cost? How much should his ticket cost? Is £3,000 good value and why or should we just assume, as the programme appeared to, that £3,000 is a lot?

  • Comment number 26.

    Well sorry BBC but what on earth was the point of this, I thought you secretly investigate and you are supposed to come up with facts and figures not sorry tales from each party, its was a massive waste of time so not only have the rail companies wasted money you have also by bothering to air this programme!

    Surely they must know how much money is being spent and for what reason it goes over budget. TBH I've got no idea why England constantly overspends on everything anyway and why it takes us so long to do anything perhaps instead of fighting with Europe we could actually get some of the best people there to come here and so we could learn how to be efficient. France and Germany have amazing trains and they are all on time plus really good value for money, French trains have really good designs that are comfortable and also have hooks to put bikes upright. What really astounds me is I could get to Nepal by plane cheaper for around the same price on the train from Lake District to London, or for half the price I could get to Spain!!! PS Richard E I travel trains all over the country as I love to get around and don’t drive ,I can assure you the trains are not good value for money as the example half the time they are late delayed or only have 2 carriages so you have to sit on the floor I once had to sit in cramped on a floor from Bristol to Wrexham and they say we are 1st World country ha! I mean not only is it uncomfortable but they fail to recognize the fact that if there were a train crash no-one would be able to get out!! Tourist often complain about our public transport costs and we are the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a Europe pass if things were slightly cheaper here surely more people would want to travel by public transport which means there would be more profit. But no this is indeed rip off Britain! The only transport I highly recommend is National Express who manage year in year out to provide cheap tickets and also manage to get to places on time without overcrowding everyone.

  • Comment number 27.

    I couldnt agree more with ab_monkey. The program was extremely biased, all the faults of the system are to be blamed on National Rail whilst the TOCs are simple victims of their incompetence.... couldn't be furthest from the true, SouthEastern service is absolutely pathetic and the excuses they give to cancel trains at peak hours ("lack of rolling stock", "staff shortages", etc) are simply unacceptable. Every single "meet the manager" session is the same lithany of excuses and incompetence, all stemming from the absolute lack of accountability all players in the system (including National Rail) have. I also find it hilarious how some people who seem to have never crossed the English Channel jump in the defence of the British Railways system. Well, if you do actually bother to go to France or Switzerland (I lived in both so I sort of know what I talk about) you will see a system that works much better and at a much lower cost than in the UK. The UK system is simply failed, nobody has the incentives to do the right thing and it seems the public is way too passive or worried with other things (quite understandably) to make this the big issue it should be.

    So to sum up: I expected something much better from Panorama, explaining the lack of incentives to do the right thing and the corruption across the system (the regulator reminded me of Sir Humphrey with her ability to bs), rather than the binary Network Rail bad, Traincos good it ended up being. The most positive thing is to at least bring the issue of poor value for money that the british railways are.

  • Comment number 28.

    You have a topic of interest here and I would like you to re-analyse it because I also agree with many of the comments above- you essentially acted as the mouthpiece to ATOC and although NR are partially to blame, there is so much more to it than that. Also, could you please stop pushing the propaganda that "private sector is more efficient than public sector"? I have worked in both and my conclusion is that it just depends on the company/authority.

    May I suggest you re-examine the issues and start by reading the Private Eye. This week, for instance, it states that Virgin virtually blackmailed the Department for Transport (DaFT) as it refused to bring in new trains without first having an extension to its franchise. Due to the insurance on the new trains being so expensive, a new train cannot overtake another new train. You may also find out that the train companies are heavily subsidised and actively sue the government should they make any losses.

    Furthermore, could you also make decent comparisons. The longer franchises that ATOC heralds as successful are also some of the shortest in the country!

    Please look again. I love investigative and insightful journalism. This programme fell short.


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