One in three commuter trains delayed
According to a survey published by Which? today, one in three commuter trains are delayed, and 7% of the 7,000 respondents were delayed by 30 minutes or more.
Arriva Trains Wales came out worst with 31% of passengers being delayed. This was despite receiving around £331m in net subsidies from the taxpayer in 2013/14, while paying out £16m in shareholder dividends – money which could and should have been invested to improve our services. Other train companies which had the most delays were First Great Western with 30% of passengers delayed; Southern with 27% of passengers delayed; and Southeastern with 24% delayed. Virgin Trains did not fare much better with 22% of passengers delayed. These five train companies alone received around £1.2bn in net subsidies in 2013/14 and paid out £54m in dividends.
The Action for Rail campaign has long argued that privatisation is a bad deal for passengers and taxpayers and that the railways should be publicly owned. A recent YouGov poll (December 2015) for the campaign found that 62% of those surveyed said that private train companies should be brought back into public ownership.
The Which? survey also revealed that 15 out of the 22 train companies covered received a total ‘customer score’ of less than 60% on areas including value for money, punctuality, reliability, availability of seating, availability and cleanliness of toilets and the overall train condition. The worst performers included Thameslink Great Northern, Southeastern, Abellio Greater Anglia, First Great Western, South West Trains and Northern Rail. It’s not surprising then that our YouGov poll found that 61% of passengers think that UK train services are bad value for money.
Recent research has found that some commuters are paying almost £2,000 more to travel to work than in 2010. The highest increase was on a Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston which has risen by £1,984, now costing over £10,000. Other examples included Stoke on Trent to Milton Keynes with an increase of £1,620, Kingham to London Paddington increased by £1,336, and Tame Bridge Parkway to Nuneaton by £736. Action for Rail analysis has shown that UK commuters are spending up to six times as much of their monthly salary on rail fares than passengers using largely publicly owned railways in Europe.
Despite paying through the nose for train travel, analysis shows that our trains are also slower and more overcrowded than publicly owned railways in Europe. We are bottom of the league on electrification when compared to 13 other European countries, including Slovenia, Romania, Portugal and Poland. Our expensive fares also allow us to enjoy the privilege of travelling on some of the oldest trains in Europe. The average age of trains is now 20.2 years across the country, compared to 16 years at the time of privatisation. If you use Merseyrail – it’s worse still, with trains averaging 36.3 years – so they were new when artists like David Essex and Donny Osmond were topping the charts.
Even though the UK government continues to rubbish the idea of rail public ownership, around two thirds of franchises are now run by foreign state owned or backed companies, and because of this we are subsidising state railways in other countries. A German Transport Spokesperson has said,
“We’re skimming profit from the entire Deutsche Bahn and ensuring that it is anchored in our budget – that way we can make sure it is invested in the rail network here in Germany.”
Is there anyone that would agree that this is in the best interests of UK passengers and taxpayers?
I think the government is more than aware of poor public perceptions of rail travel, and when I was at a Rail Executive Conference last year – I felt the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP, made it pretty clear to industry representatives in the room that by the end of this parliament – they needed to have convinced passengers that franchising is a successful model.
Well, we aren’t convinced, and there is a wealth of evidence (e.g. Rebuilding Rail, 2012, The Great Train Robbery, 2013) to indicate that rail privatisation will never deliver in the best interests of UK passengers and taxpayers.