Britain’s railways can be very expensive and….very cheap

17 August 2012

Facts about how railway in different countries really compare are hard to come by. Experience shows that some elements of other railways are really rather good but others struggle to come up to the level you might expect here. Nowhere are more facts deployed than in debates about fares – the ‘it’s so cheap and good over there’ versus its ‘all so expensive here’ comments ping around

We did some research back in 2009 which we broadly repeated with the train companies trade body ATOC recently. What we found was interesting. Yes, Britain’s railways are comparatively expensive in London and the South East, but nearer the norm in other places. Long-distance travel can be remarkably cheap with advance fares, but walk up fares are pricey. One of the things the government is interested in his how you might rebalance fares around the country – very difficult politically and difficult to do in any fair way.

But the cost can really hit you some times. I have friends who live in Ramsgate – 80 odd miles from London. I am going to see them and stay the night coming back the next morning to work – a trip some people must make you would think. Because single fares are a few pence cheaper than returns (it is the return that is regulated) they are priced up and there are no advance fares to be had. Yes, I am going in the peak (-ish) in both directions from Victoria but £63.90 for two singles – ouch. It takes two hours (the high-speed trains having been requisitioned for the Olympics) as well. I just cannot rate that as value for money no matter how good the journey is.

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