Railways fail to win back the passengers

I was not surprised the rail company is cutting back the number of services to Manchester. When I last returned to London from Manchester by train from conference this year on the all too early 21.15 last train there were plenty of empty seats despite the cancellation of the previous service and transfer of those passengers to the later one. there were even  fewer people on the way to the city.

The latest figures I could find for overall use of the railways are the year to March 2022. Even the up to date  numbers are delayed.  They showed the railways  with passenger journeys down 43% on 2019-20. Rail journeys were just 1% of total journeys undertaken. Government subsidy shot up that year to 2022 to £20.3 bn, 75% up on 2020, as taxpayers were made to pay the losses created by so many empty seats. The railways at great expense moved a lot of heavy fairly empty rail cars around the country, and created a lot of carbon dioxide in the process for their diesel engines and for their electric ones using power mainly generated from fossil fuel.

I found figures for quarter 3 2022 which showed fare revenues down to 71% of 2019-20 levels. Journey numbers had recovered a bit from the previous year, but only by discounting more fares.

The railways have  not found a good business model for the post lockdown era. They need to show more flexibility over tickets for commuters who now travel in on fewer days and maybe at different hours to the old peaks. They need to identify the main places for the growing leisure business. They need to encourage handling large numbers of people all wishing to move to the same popular venue at the same time instead of deterring some of this by station closures and crowd management schemes that deter users. They need to adjust timetables to reflect travel needs and run fewer unpopular trains.


  1. Mark B
    November 6, 2023

    Good morning.

    They need to encourage handling large numbers of people all wishing to move to the same popular venue at the same time . . .

    Bang on the money there, Sir John !!

    As a football supporter I tend to travel away to games. The cost to go by rail to some places can be very high for longer journeys, and I know of people who have spent over £100 or more. If there was a cap at the weekend, say £50, then more people would use the train to travel. Currently I can go as far a Birmingham by car for less. Trains are much better and cheaper at moving large bodies of people over long journeys than car loads of cars, buses and coaches. Plus it would encourage more people to travel the country and spend money where it is needed.

    We yet again have another business that can only function with subsidies and consequently does not feel the need to compete with other forms of transport.

    1. Peter
      November 6, 2023


      As a football supporter, you will need to purchase tickets for away games well in advance. The big advantage is that the price is capped at a more affordable level.

      A current issue is – until further notice – trains may be hit by strikes until up to a fortnight before a game. To get an away ticket you would need to have already made a purchase by then.There are engineering works to consider also. Though these are publicised in advance.

      So local away games are often the safest option. I only go to away matches at 3pm on Saturdays unless they are local. Top games are now spread over a whole weekend too. League one is the best bet for a traditional kick off time

      1. Mickey Taking
        November 6, 2023

        Often the tickets for matches can go into an exchange system if you decline to go, so buying rail tickets way in advance for a meagre saving is risky.

        1. Peter
          November 6, 2023

          Away tickets are limited in number and often cheaper than standard price. So if you don’t buy when they are released you lose out.

          1. Mickey Taking
            November 6, 2023

            So join the Club arranged coach travel!

      2. Cynic
        November 6, 2023

        Many of the elderly will, no doubt, prefer to travel free on buses rather than use a train. One subsidised service competing against another.

    2. Ian+wrag
      November 6, 2023

      Different topic John
      The government is going to pay the Chinese and Indian owners of steel production in South Wales and Redcar to close their blast furnaces and build electric ark furnaces
      As well as losing about 6000 jobs directly and 10000 indirectly we will no longer be able to produce high quality steel for manufacturing
      Yet another stark example of the stupidity of this net zero scam

      Name one other country that is destroying itself as we are.

      1. Lifelogic
        November 6, 2023

        Yet more, hugely damaging, Net zero, economic (and even defence) insanity from this government. A little more atmospheric CO2 is actually a benefit anyway. Plus we have no spare, reliable low carbon electricity anyway. Even wind is not very low in CO2 when fully and properly accounted for.

      2. The Prangwizard
        November 6, 2023

        ‘Stupidity of this net zero scam’.

        The scam is not the problem, this government is fundamentally stupid and incompetent. It is staffed by people who have no knowledge of business, of trade, of national priorities.

        They have no real life experience beyond bits of paper. They will believe anything they pick up from any article they are asked to read and consequently the country continues to be ruined everywhere you look.

      3. Ian B
        November 6, 2023

        @Ian+wrag +1 Then to rub salt into the wounds this isn’t to manufacture the specialist steels required to keep the UK safe and secure. This is to process recycled steel, for the most part imported recycled steel. The low grade stuff.
        The steel the UK most needs the expertise the UK needs retain is to be thrown on the scrap heap by this Conservative Government and they will charge the UK Taxpayer for the privaledge. All the UK’s most needed steel will still have to be imported and imported from those very countries that this Conservative Government is paying to close the UK capability down. The most anti-UK Government we have ever seen.
        The taxpayer is to be forced to pay to make the UK vulnerable and reliant to the whims of foreign entities.

      4. Donna
        November 6, 2023

        It’s utter madness and destroying our defence capability. There was a reason why the EU started out as the Coal and Steel Community …. it was a means of controlling production of these vital industries, to prevent an effective “defence” (ie aggression) capability in any of the community nations.

      5. Hope
        November 6, 2023

        +many. It is unbelievable how stupid and treacherous JRs party is. Javid came back from Australia allegedly to save the steel industry to only realise he could not because of UK in lockstep with EU on environment!! Tories are destroying our national, security in every area, food, water, energy, manufacturing, failing our security by its mass immigration- as we see on our streets at the moment. No integration or forced integration but forced compliance and silence to accept alien cultures and way of life on indigenous people!!

      6. Original Richard
        November 6, 2023

        I+w :

        Completely correct.

        The false CAGW/Net Zero is a scam initiated by the communists to destroy our economy and make us militarily insecure.

      7. Ian+wrag
        November 6, 2023

        Another example of the lie that going green produces well paid jobs. It just destoys them with no viable alternatives.

        1. glen cullen
          November 6, 2023

          They now got an excuse to close the ‘coke’ mines ….they don’t need them under arc furnaces ….another green tick in the box

      8. Mitchel
        November 6, 2023

        The looting of the UK has been as comprehensive and systematic as the Vandal sack of Rome in 455 AD.

        1. Lynn Atkinson
          November 6, 2023

          +1 … and will end in the same way.

      9. MFD
        November 6, 2023

        Another case of Ignorant politicians
        They must have been warned! High grade high carbon steel can only be produced in a blast furness. If this foolish move goes ahead we will be unable to produce our own weapons for defence

        1. Original Richard
          November 6, 2023

          MFD : “If this foolish move goes ahead we will be unable to produce our own weapons for defence.”

          That’s the real reason. It has absolutely nothing to do with cutting back our 1% contribution to global CO2 emissions, not that anthropogenic, or even natural, CO2 emissions are a problem as shown by the calculations on IR radiation by Happer & Wijngaarden and in fact increasing CO2 greens the planet and increases cropy yields.

          We are being betrayed.

      10. forthurst
        November 6, 2023

        The dimwitted Tory Arts graduates advised by dimwitted civil service Arts graduates strike again. There is literally no depth to these peoples’ ignorance or stupidity or the damage they have done and continue to do to our economy.

      11. IanB
        November 6, 2023

        @Ian+wrag. More net zero madness, cancel UK production then import from big polluters, transported the greatest distance. The Conservative Government destroying UK manufacturing capability – don’t they ever think!

    3. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      London to Manchester by train return £244 plus the often double journey taxi or wife end connections and/or parking. By car up to seven people door to door for less than £100. So up to 17 times cheaper and far more flexible if plans changes and you can take more luggage or shopping and and call off on route. Plus no need to book in advance. Cheaper to fly very often.

      Trains very rarely can compete unless you cannot drive or do not have a car. But even renting or borrowing one can be far cheaper.

      1. Hope
        November 6, 2023

        Another failure by Tory half of the Uni party. But you keep moaning and voting for the same!! Very scientific.

      2. Paul Isherwood
        November 6, 2023

        N Exp £26……..RETURN !

        1. Mickey Taking
          November 6, 2023

          and instead of leaves on the line, you might suffer ‘Stop Oil’ road blocks.

      3. Lifelogic
        November 6, 2023

        If as they claim (wrongly if you do the real maths door to door maths and allow for tracks, stations and staff) train are so energy and CO2 efficient why are they so expensive per person mile?

    4. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      Indeed it usually cannot compete at all even with the vast over taxation of drivers, roads and cars and the vast subsidies rail Lreceives. Plus it often needs end journey taxis or rip off station parking charges on top.

  2. Peter
    November 6, 2023

    So you don’t like railways. Unfortunately if we are driven off the roads, as seems to be the plan now, public transport will be the only option available.

    I travelled from Halifax during a strike weekend. The train company, Grand Central, were actually running a service. However, at the last minute, I got a text to say my afternoon train was now cancelled. So I had to get a morning train instead or make arrangements to stay longer. There was a lot of faffing with tickets too. I then discovered my original ticket was valid on the morning service as the train was cancelled. So I had to make a refund claim for an unnecessary ticket.

    When I went to Stockport in October I was surprised at the limited rolling stock on an important mainline service. We soon learnt that you don’t get on a bus to Manchester unless you want to be stuck in traffic. Trains for Rochdale were from a different station Manchester Victoria not Manchester Piccadilly and they were delayed due to a missing conductor delayed on another service.

    So a mixed bag. We had waited until a fortnight beforehand to book in case of a strike. You also have to check for weekend engineering works. These are now a routine feature as it suits the rail companies. When it was a joined up public service, rail works were often done overnight.

    Yesterday I got in the car and within a couple of minutes I was stuck in roadworks. Nobody was actually around doing any work though. Maybe if I drove more I would be aware of where all the road works are and take avoiding routes. Sometimes this is impossible though.

    So all transport in this country is a shambles. The fractured railway industry and its franchises, who don’t give a damn, is a result of privatisation for doctrinaire reasons. However, the Conservative Party will never admit that this was a mistake. Endless tinkering with a failed model will be the future. Though we do at least know that we were led up the garden path on the cost of HS2. The people in charge decided to suppress the true cost from politicians to keep the gravy train rolling,

    Reply I wrote about how to get more use of rail, not to denigrate it. The railways are now run from the centre like a nationalised industry.

    1. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      I do quite like railways but they are too expensive (even with a railcard) and inflexible in general, so most people prefer cars, motorbikes or coaches. They do not even save CO2 when accounted for properly with end connections, staffing, tickets, stations and rather low average occupancy other than in rush hours and then only if going in the rush direction. Useless for travel in the early hours or late at night generally too.

      Intercity coaches often only about 25%-50% of the train tickets.

      1. Mark J
        November 6, 2023


        I would disagree to some extent about railcard fares being expensive. There are some very reasonable prices about, especially when you factor in rip off fuel prices and parking at the other end.

        For example, A ‘Sunday Out’ return ticket from Earley to Bracknell (with Railcard) is just £2.95. Cheaper than a return bus ticket, and driving there with parking at around £1.30 per hour in the multi story car parks dotted about.

        The same start station to London Waterloo is £11.95, to Guildford is £6.95. Both fares are cheaper than driving and parking at the other end.

        I regularly travel to the car unfriendly Oxford, from Reading. This is £7.50 at the weekend – although pre-covid it was possible for just £5. Parking prices are now ridiculous in the City Centre, at over £3 per hour.

      2. Peter
        November 6, 2023

        I don’t like driving unless it is on empty roads. Motorways really wind me up. So driving would take it out of me.

        Leisure rail fares are nothing like the cost you mention. With a rail card, they are often reasonably priced. Around £40 return to both Stockport and Halifax. Stockport is much faster though, as the Halifax train stops at every small town in the Calder valley, then Doncaster then London. It takes three hours, as opposed to two hours from Stockport.

        Coach travel takes twice as long as rail.

        1. jerry
          November 6, 2023

          @Peter; “Leisure rail fares are nothing like the cost you mention. With a rail card ..//..”

          But that is the point, many people do not have rail cards, do not even know about them, and why would any TOC go out of their way advertising such discounts?! Which is probably why the TOCs wanted rid of the helpful Ticket Office staff, advising people of such discounts, or if they were to only delay their journey by 15 minutes, or travel Thursday rather than Friday etc.

        2. Lifelogic
          November 6, 2023

          I agree outside peak hours they can be far cheaper and a more relaxed way to travel for some routes.

      3. jerry
        November 6, 2023

        @LL; I can not believe anyone who hates traveling by rail would find coach travel acceptable, trains are wider that coaches but often have similar seating configurations (even a 3+2 configuration on a train gives more space than the 2+2 found on most coaches), and then there is far more ability to move about on a train, have a snack or even full meal.

    2. jerry
      November 6, 2023

      @JR reply; “The railways are now run from the centre like a nationalised industry.”

      That might be so, but they do not *appear* to be, perception matters when trying to gain or win back long lost customers. Ticketing is far to complex, but so to are the number of competing services, nor is it clear what the “permissible routes” are, in British Rail’s heyday (until Sectorisation) so long as you were going in generally the correct direction, not on a ‘named’ train or other service, you were unlikely to be issued with an excess fare, that is not the perception these days.

  3. DOM
    November 6, 2023

    The customer’s had enough of the arrogance and destructive behaviour of the union barons, who by the way should be Thatcherised with gusto not appeased, and so are choosing road rather than rail and in many cases not to travel at all. You can hardly blame the customer, the real victim when the scum unions smell Tory weakness

    This country feels increasingly leaderless and rudderless. Braverman for PM, a woman who on the surface at least appears fearless in the face of left wing and religious thuggery

    As an aside. The Labour party is a party of atheism. Someone should point this fact out to Labour’s newcomers

    1. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      Well I am an atheist, not even believing in the deluded new daft religions like wokeism, climate alarmism, ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance) but I could never vote Labour or ever Conservative under the current tax to death, globalist, net zero Socialists who spend & mainly waste some 47% of GDP. Much of it like road blocking and net zero doing huge net harms.

      1. Nigl
        November 6, 2023

        Yes. It’s been apparent for a long time you only believe in yourself.

      2. Lifelogic
        November 6, 2023

        I missed off other government spending that did huge net harms the Covid Vaccines, Lockdowns, this sick joke Covid Enquiry, HS2, net zero, road blocking, test and trace, subsidising EVs, forcing houses to have EV chargers, the BBC propaganda funding, migrant hotels, much of legal aid…

      3. Lifelogic
        November 6, 2023

        So the King of CO2 hypocrisy Charles will tell us about the government’s very tiny delays on their mad net zero agenda. What will his expression be. Keep out of politics you damn Charlie! As you sensible mother did.

        Some deluded fool on the radio this AM said he is helping by coming by horse drawn carriage! Horses are of course far, far less efficient than cars, bikes, walking, roller blading… they waste loads of energy even when parked or stabled too. Plus all the energy used by the staff looking after these papered animals.

    2. Sir Joe Soap
      November 6, 2023

      Someone should point out to Labour and Conservative that should they invite more extremist newcomers into the country, who then cause problems for other countries’ citizens, their pre-existing constituency would be invoked in any “rooting-out” of said extremists by those countries.

  4. BW
    November 6, 2023

    It’s not the costs that keep me off the trains. It’s the yobs, male and female, and of course those who don’t know what they are, who have no idea how to behave. Effing and blinding throughout the journey. Drunks, drugged up wasters. Makes for an awful experience wherever you go. They could half the fares and I still wouldn’t use them. Give me my car anyday.

    1. Berkshire Alan
      November 6, 2023

      You make some very sensible points, but you forgot feet on the opposite seats as well, I used to ask them politely to move them when it used to be just youths, but now with so many younger adults acting the same way, and the fact that I am getting older myself, the risk of a confrontation was not worth the bother.
      It is now rare that I use the train at all, too expensive fares, too expensive car parks, or taxi, very often far too hot (no opening windows) so a travelling petri dish for infections., hence the purchase of a new diesel car this year.

    2. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      Some truth in this, and the many irritating announcements.

  5. Donna
    November 6, 2023

    Rail tickets are far too expensive. I’m going from the SW to London next weekend; a return rail ticket would cost around £60, a return ticket on the Superfast Coach is half that, so it’s a bit of a no brainer.

    And that’s before I factor in the possibility of railway engineering works on a Sunday and a bus service replacing the train for part of the journey which can add over an hour to the journey as it meanders from one station to the next and the vulnerability of the single track when you get past Salisbury (particularly in view of the recent flooding).

    There used to be an advert which had the strapline “let the train take the strain.” These days it would be more accurate to say “Taking the train is just a pain.”

    1. Mike Wilson
      November 6, 2023

      When you say the ‘single track past Salisbury’ – do you mean the line between Salisbury and Exeter which would pass Crewkerne? This is one track with passing passes? If so, wow. I haven’t been in a train for years – and not at all since moving to Dorset. I was toying with a (weekend) day out in London – but dread doing it by car with all the parking hassles etc. But the train is not a good idea either?

      1. Donna
        November 7, 2023

        Yes. You pull out of Salisbury and very shortly afterwards the train routinely stops to allow a train coming in the opposite direction to clear the single track on the approach and through Tisbury. The wait is usually around 5 minutes, but I have sat there for as long as 20 minutes. And that’s not the only stretch of single track between Salisbury and Exeter.

    2. Mark J
      November 6, 2023

      I’m not sure what is going on with the Reading to Waterloo line.

      For well over a year now, the Sunday service has been woeful. Rail replacement buses, sections of track closed and when trains do run – with long winded diversions via Surbiton and Wimbledon.

      The people living along this line in Wokingham and Bracknell deserve better.

      You can count on one hand, the number of times a ‘proper’ Sunday service has run in the past year/18 months.

    3. Mickey Taking
      November 6, 2023

      or ‘take the train, your money down the drain’.

      1. glen cullen
        November 6, 2023

        A late summer day out last month to Conway Bay, but a family emergency meant that we had to cancel the trip ….requested a refund only to be told no refunds within 24hrs of travel date …wasted £100 and I bet they resold our seats (and it was a nightmare just trying to work through the English and Welsh timetables and book the tickets)

  6. Peter
    November 6, 2023


    ‘ The Labour party is a party of atheism. Someone should point this fact out to Labour’s newcomers’

    Well there are a lot of militant atheists on here, of the Richard Dawkins variety.

    Perhaps they will be tempted to vote Labour?

  7. davews
    November 6, 2023

    You obviously don’t like the trains Sir John. I don’t know about the Manchester services but certainly down here in your neck of the country the trains are frequently packed. I use the service to Waterloo at least weekly and it is definitely back to pre-pandemic levels. OK costs, but with a railcard and the now retained travelcards very reasonable – and who wants to drive to London where it will cost even more to park? Let’s sort out the Unions who seem to stick in mud types and even get our new trains in service (now four years late) and we will have a service people will use.

    1. Peter
      November 6, 2023


      Public transport is even full at weekends now. Last weekend I went to Kilburn. Train was full and the Jubilee line was so full that I let several of them pass until a more comfortable one arrived. Lots of Halloween types around, but it would be the same most weekends.

      Buses to Kingston are noticeably fuller at weekends, because shoppers don’t want the cost and hassle of parking. I would just get a train to Wimbledon, Clapham or the West End but for the moment people are either staying local, or don’t have free travel and balk at the cost of trains.

      I can now get to Reading on the Elizabeth line for free, so I cannot complain.

      1. Mickey Taking
        November 6, 2023

        No wonder your Mayor needs to raise money!

  8. Sakara Gold
    November 6, 2023

    The railways do need to adapt to the digital revolution and the workplace changes that have taken place since the pandemic, particulary working from home

    I suspect that the reduction in passenger numbers has to do with the long industrial disputes that the railways have been subjected to, which begain when Grayling was SoS Transport.

    The government quietly capitulated last week and instructed the train operating companies to scrap the ticket office closures. The RMT may now become more amenable to ending their strikes. The government should end the strikes in the NHS by giving the nurses and doctors a decent payrise before the next election

  9. Old Albion
    November 6, 2023

    Hardly a mystery is it. The railways are overpriced, unreliable, often on strike (recently) And most folk have to add in transport to and from the station(s)

    1. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      exactly and rather inflexible too.

  10. Bryan Harris
    November 6, 2023

    Poor service seems to start in the stations — Train companies could start by making stations easier for people to use, do away with those awful new ticket machines, and improve the layout.
    At Victoria station, there is only one ticket office at one end of the station, so if your train is at platform 4 you have to walk all across the concourse to eventually find an under-staffed ticket office with a long queue to confront.

    I don’t use the train very often, but would if they weren’t so expensive, if they did period returns, for example, at a reasonable price

    There is certainly a lot the railways companies could do to make trains more attractive, apart from the pricing – Why don’t the make use of TV advertising to illustrate their good points……?

    1. Mark J
      November 6, 2023


      If prices can be halved in some cases via ‘ticket splitting’, it begs the question why these prices are not offered to begin with.

      For example, Reading to Birmingham New St is £68.20. The same journey can be done for £34.60 on a weekday, or £28.45 on a weekend.

      The whole pricing structure is an utter mess and is becoming increasingly expensive and dishonest to the passenger.

      If the Government can subsidise the “£2 bus fare”, then why hasn’t more been done more to subsidise and stabilise rail fares.

      I believe fares are due to rise around 8% next year. How will this help grow rail travel? It won’t.

  11. MFD
    November 6, 2023

    As I have not been on a train for over twenty years , I cannot comment really BUT I cannot see the sense of lugging cases etc to a Station and then lugging them at the end!
    Stick them in the boot of the car , get the radio on and have a pleasant journey through our beautiful country, why put up with the hassle.
    Having said that, I do not fly to foreign countries as GB is best!

    The global weather scam I ignore as any fool who has put brain in gear will know it is all lies.
    Grow up ladies and gents , use your intelligence instead of acting like sheep.

    1. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      Watch “How to Think About Climate Change by the sensible physicist William Happer” video for a good start.

    2. Lifelogic
      November 6, 2023

      Most people and indeed MPs have no real understanding of physics beyond age 16 and many not even that.

    3. Lynn Atkinson
      November 6, 2023


    4. Mickey Taking
      November 6, 2023

      Most of us don’t normally drive through beautiful countryside, we navigate into overcrowded, sign-ridden, potholed roads and get fleeced when we dare to stop.

  12. iain gill
    November 6, 2023

    well after several family journeys by train were cancelled last Christmas by strikes, this years equivalent journeys are booked on coaches.

    the appalling behaviour of rail staff at some stations when the lines reopened, forcing people to run down wet platforms to stand any chance of catching a train sealed the deal.

  13. Nigl
    November 6, 2023

    For me, the quality of trains, new, clean, good wifi, plugs is the best they have ever been. Yes strikes, engineering works can add uncertainty but look at road network, say Jct 10 M25 at present.

    The kicker is cost, ridiculous prices to commute daily and even more uncompetitive long distance and the ultimate annoyance, breath taking coffee filling parking prices. It is now obvious the extent the railways relied on what they thought was a captive audience to bleed them dry, the daily commuters. Well, captive no more.

    Well you only have to look at the empty spaces to see what people think.

    As Christmas approaches let’s have reduced parking and massive ticket discounting.

  14. Lifelogic
    November 6, 2023

    You say “They need to encourage handling large numbers of people all wishing to move to the same popular venue at the same time instead of deterring some of this by station closures and crowd management schemes that deter users.”

    This is not easy logistically – what do you do with the staff or trains for the rest of the week, where do you park them all, how do you conjure up staff just for these few peak event periods.

  15. Sir Joe Soap
    November 6, 2023

    It’s also the parking.
    Whether it’s the strange arrangement for first timers to arrive at Wokingham Station or the lack of affordable parking space at Twyford, it’s discouraging.
    We’re short changed and being ripped off before even stepping on to a train.

  16. agricola
    November 6, 2023

    I suspect that a combination of Covid, WFH, and industrial unrest have taught potential customers to do without them.
    Were government capable of a Conservative policy for regional airports we could possibly dispence with railways altogether. If equally this government and all its devolved manifestations ceased their war on the motorist even commuting could become a pleasure.

  17. Nigl
    November 6, 2023

    Your solutions Sir JR sensible etc as ever but based on the existing model.,the ‘Elizabeth Line is superb. What effect is it having on the traditional network,and what can be learned?

    Ultra frequent long open trains, like catching a bus on rails. Change from trains to extended ‘tram’ networks. Maglev high speeds on inter city.

    Innovative thinking and investment needed. Subsidy as anti market.

  18. Mark J
    November 6, 2023

    Depends on the route. Although I will say services at the weekend can be very busy.

    Try getting a seat on a Crosscountry train going north from Reading, on a Saturday morning/early afternoon. You have no hope!

    Even nine carriage trains by GWR to Oxford and London Paddington can be full and standing on a Saturday.

    One thing you should be aware of is the clear rise in ticketless travel, particularly on SWR. Usually from stations without ticket barriers. Of course these people do not register in the travel figures.

    On one occasion, I witnessed a person got on at Earley, then barged their way through the barriers behind someone else at Bracknell Station.

    I suspect this happens a lot more than SWR care to admit.

    In addition, tickets are rarely checked on SWR services. Ticket barriers are usually left open after certain times in the evening – usually around 7pm on the weekends. How does this encourage people to buy a ticket?

    Coming back from Bracknell last night, the side barrier-less entrance was open at 7pm. Wokingham was the same.

    I’ve argued before on a rail forum, that is is possible to travel from London Paddington to Bristol ‘for free’ after about 9pm at night. Due to ticket barriers being open at both ends – and the chance of tickets being checked on the train, very low.

    I can’t recall the last time I had someone check tickets on an evening service. Certainly this has become more lax, in the post covid era.

    The railways demand more money/subsidy to cover these losses, but do very little and nothing to help themselves.

    Reply Travelling without a ticket with the intent of not paying is theft. There are often checks on trains and or at stations.The last train journeys I did there were checks at the station and on board. People should beware as there various ways of enforcing payment.

    1. Mark J
      November 6, 2023

      Sorry JR.

      On SWR services, I have rarely had my ticket checked at the weekend, or in the evenings.

      The on board Guard does not check tickets – it is not within their job specification.

      The only time I’ve had tickets checked is when going through a station with a closed barrier, or GWR services on the North Downs Line towards Gatwick.

      Fare evasion is rampant and getting worse by ‘self entitled’ individuals. I know people who work for GWR and Crosscountry trains, they have said it is becoming an issue. For which they get little back up from BTP to deal with.

      Reply I am making the point that people should not travel and not pay

  19. Linda Brown
    November 6, 2023

    The railways need to tell you when they are running for starters. They have stopped producing paper copies of timetables because so many services were cancelled I was told. You key in to find the train you want and have such difficulty in locating anything it is not worth the time and effort. The railways are the last place I would look to for travel these days I am afraid. Bad management that needs sorting.

  20. Everhopeful
    November 6, 2023

    I thought that the aim actually was to destroy the railways?
    Like everything else …you know…jobs, small businesses, neighbourhood cohesion, health and a few other unimportant things like that.
    If you can’t get a ticket at the ticket office or feel safe on the trains and even find many times that your expensive, internet purchased ticket is deemed invalid then how the blazes can you use the train? Oh and the services have been cut to the bone. And guess what? People like to travel at their own convenience, especially when paying through the nose. They don’t like to wait for hours for connections and have trains cancelled at no notice.
    So…maybe we should all just give in.
    15 minute cities anyone?

  21. Roy Grainger
    November 6, 2023

    You are right that the pricing model they are using seems flawed – at least from the traveller’s perspective.

    If I want to go from London to major cities in England it is usually cheaper to drive and always a lot cheaper to use a bus service like National Express. To go to Scotland it is cheaper to fly.

    Add to that the fact that yesterday, as is common on Sundays, there were multiple cancellations and delays on the rail network due to signal failures etc. whereas other forms of transport tend to be more reliable.

    So the pricing and service levels actively encourages people to use less “green” transport options.

    I should also note that all the better alternatives to rail I have noted are purely private sector options wheras rail is semi-nationalised via Railtrack and operator subsidies. No surprise to those of us who remember the days when many other industries were under state ownership.

    Maybe that rail funding model means they simply don’t care about filling the trains and their pricing model suits them just fine.

  22. agricola
    November 6, 2023

    Much more important I note that Rishi has at last woken to the advantages of self sufficiency in fuel, given a lack of it being a dire effect on inflation.
    If you do nothing else emphasise to him daily the absolute need to change the business plan. Any increase in extraction must be directly aimed at unshackling the UK from the World political cartel. It must not be gifted to the oil companies to sell on the World market. At the same time the government must look at the amount they extract in tax from the whole process.
    I can accept that oil as extracted has varying properties and is therefore suited to different end products. As a consequence we will always need to import some oil.
    The importance of this decision and getting the business plan right cannot be over emphasised. It could be the basis for industrial recovery, tax reduction, and the growth of individual wealth from its current stagnation. Conservatives being Conservative.

  23. Mickey Taking
    November 6, 2023

    I use 2 trains to go to where I volunteer one day per week, about 48 weeks every year. My Railcard is great value but I can drive at almost exactly the same cost with better flexibility (apart from crossing Henley bridge). The deterent from driving in this case is paying almost the same cost for full day parking. When will local authorities wake up to the potential business they lose over parking?

    1. glen cullen
      November 6, 2023

      Sounds like common sense

  24. Everhopeful
    November 6, 2023

    It was always said that Mrs T loathed trains.
    I could never understand that. She always seemed so pragmatic and sensible in other matters.

  25. Ian B
    November 6, 2023

    Sir John – I know you disagree with my thinking.
    The UK railway model disallows competition so there is no need for the franchise companies to worry about competition, even more than can just ask for more taxpayer subsidy that this Conservative Government love to give away.
    The only competition comes from the car, as it is not a practical proposition to have more than 2 companies operating on the same rail route.
    No competition equals lousy service and who cares attitude by those that get to profit most
    The same situation exist with Water Companies. Maintain the dividend for the guy at the top and the shareholders, there is always more money available from this Taxpayers throwaway Conservative Government – the consumer can take a hike

    1. Ian B
      November 6, 2023

      The Quango’s the ‘Authorities’ that this Conservative Government keep growing and steeling from the taxpayer to fund, do not protect the ‘consumer’ they protect this Conservative Government and those they(The Conservative Government) have awarded to receive our taxpayer money.
      This Conservative Government plays into the Socialist mindset of the rich get richer while poor get poorer. They refuse to manage, they refuse to control expenditure, the refuse a ‘free’ market place – by doing the very things they say they are against.

  26. Everhopeful
    November 6, 2023

    A propos travel… how dare the govt. stamp “Tax it or lose it” on envelopes relating to car licensing etc.addressed to life long observers and payers of every rotten tax going.
    Especially taking into account all the strikes and failures.
    Wokery out of control.

  27. Bloke
    November 6, 2023

    Is the UK government all at sea?
    It can afford £20.3bn to keep unwanted empty seats on trains.
    They should divert such power to the English Channel.
    Why can’t they keep unwanted boats empty there instead of allowing full ones arriving to keep?

  28. a-tracy
    November 6, 2023

    We used to use the Virgin west-coast line a lot. They lost the franchise, and the person who got it ruined the service North and South, so we no longer have faith in it. The last time we booked, the air conditioning was broken, and we were squashed into one carriage; I always book facing the direction of the journey to stop travel sickness. No seats facing forward free, I was terribly sick, the food was rubbish, we had paid for a meal and got offered a dry sandwich instead.

    A couple of my children got a train last week that should have taken three hours; there were problems on the lines they were told, so they had to swap trains three times. The journey became seven hours, and they were late for work. They said we’ll have to go by car next time.

    I’m driving next week instead of using the train, I can’t trust it, plus last time I was nearly late for the train as the car parking spaces were full and I had to wait 20 minutes for a space. A couple of my children will have to use the train from Scotland £305 for the two of them booked well in advance with discount railcards; they did consider flying instead or getting the night bus, but they have a station near where they live, fingers crossed they don’t end up with a replacement coach service which seems to happen a lot at the weekend.

  29. Original Richard
    November 6, 2023

    HS2 shows us why rail travel is so expensive and hence fails to serve as a national transport system as it should.

    It is run from the top and the unions with socialists who, as socialists always do, spend other people’s money without care or control. When I commuted by rail I can remember a conversation with a guard who told me his jacket could have been purchased at 1/6th of the price his rail company paid.

    If we are to continue with rail then it is necessary to convert to driverless trains. Long-term it would make sense to ditch the expensive to maintain 19th century steel wheels on a steel track and convert to the far cheaper rubber wheels on a tarmac track and run driverless coaches on this dedicated track.

    1. Original Richard
      November 6, 2023

      PS : We’re going to need to use the steel track for building as Net Zero requires the banning by 2050 of any new steel production and only allows its re-use. See the Government funded UK Fires “Absolute Zero” report.

  30. Ralph Corderoy
    November 6, 2023

    ‘The railways have not found a good business model for the post lockdown era.’

    The railways did not have a good business model before lockdown. Commuters increasing their home working was accelerated by lockdown but was happening anyway as technology improved.

    Horses had their day as mass transport. Trains helped the growth of cities, giving all the benefits a city of specialists can bring. Our patterns of behaviour evolved as we moved from horse to train. The personal petrol engine let us shift our actions again as the car no longer tied us to the central planning of route and time. The train is a dead iron horse we continue to flog but ever fewer are buying.

    A Saturday summer-morning train into Weymouth is chattering with families laden with beach paraphernalia. That’s an outlier. Instead of hourly near-empty trains shuffling back and forth, shouldn’t sufficient data be promptly gathered in this computing age to treat train scheduling as an optimisation problem? As a schedule entry is cut, some passengers are lost but others switch their travel time. Maximise profit. Cutting from hourly back to 6/9/12/15/18/21 o’clock could mean an overpaid driver sitting idle but overall savings giving cheaper tickets. Yes, the losers would complain. The taxpayers should be complaining more now.

  31. Peter Parsons
    November 6, 2023

    Avanti West Coast are cutting services because they haven’t recruited and retained enough drivers to deliver their existing schedule.

    There are examples of post-pandemic railways that are showing a working business model, such as the Elizabeth Line, which is now carrying more passengers than originally projected. Why? It offers a sufficiently frequent service (typically 4 trains an hour). Something it can offer because, for example, the Elizabeth Line trains don’t have to share tracks with the long distance GWR trains on its western section between Reading and Paddington, so there aren’t the capacity issues that currently exist on the West Coast main line, especially on the section between Birmingham and Manchester.

    Unfortunately, this government has recently cancelled the solution to those capacity problems in the Midlands and the North, making it impossible for towns and cities in and around areas like Birmingham and Manchester to be able to have an Elizabeth Line-style business model, so they’ll be stuck with their 1960s service.

    When considering a particular train, it is important to remember that they are run as round trip services. Much as with aircraft, it isn’t about the one-way revenue, it’s about the total revenue over the round trip, aggregated over time. A 21.15 service from Manchester to London is probably the return journey of something like an 18.00 service from London to Manchester, a service quite likely to be busy most days.

    Looking at only one direction of a rail journey is over-simplistic and will deliver a flawed analysis.

    Reply There is not nearly enough demand to warrant 4 or more trains an hour London to Manchester. The morning train to get you to Manchester for a 9 am start has plenty of spare seats.

    1. Mickey Taking
      November 6, 2023

      reply to reply …after rush hours there is no reason to run more than hourly on the Waterloo- Reading line.
      Probably true for most other ‘services’ – so start rescheduling and make redundancies.

    2. Peter Parsons
      November 6, 2023

      There aren’t 4 or more trains an hour between London and Manchester, there are currently 3 per hour and they also travel on different lines and serve different sets of intermediate stations (for example, some go via Crewe, some via Stoke on Trent, but not both).

      Reply Yes, and many of them very short of passengers

    3. a-tracy
      November 8, 2023

      Peter, aren’t train passenger numbers down, and like the aeroplanes didn’t rules go out not to run so much empty capacity. Planes get cut now and people moved to fill up other half full planes.
      AWC are a poor franchise, they lost clients because their onboard service isn’t as good as Virgin used to be, and the food is poor quality. Most of the problems my family experienced were north of Manchester up past Carlisle, always being replaced by long-delayed coaches.

      I don’t care if the train stops at Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Staffordshire or Stoke on the way up to Crewe it doesn’t make much difference to the running time. The one going to Liverpool is often the most rowdy with loud carriages so I try to avoid that one. Parking is expensive in Crewe and poor quality the spaces are too close together. I can’t trust the rail service now so more often we drive.

  32. XY
    November 6, 2023

    An aspect of this subject that few can tackle these days is around the experience of being on a train with the modern Brit – and possibly their family.

    Behaviour is not what it was. People seem to feel that they don’t have to bother to teah their children any form of disciplne and if you ask a child not to grab your stuff, pick its nose in front of you, bawl at the top of its lungs with no parental action taken… they start shouting at you “They’re MY kids, how dare you speak to them!”.

    Apart from the strange feeling of personal ownership, the lack of traditional values means that I find myself increasingly avoiding contact with the general public. That includes planes and trains – I haven’t used one in a long time.

    You may not get the full feel of this on a 21:15 inter-city service.

    People like the freedom of their cars, but when there are hordes of people with cars, all flocking to the same place (which was idyllic… when they were not there), all exacerbated by increasing populations due to immigration… something is not right. But to persuade them onto a train when they can get in ther car and arrive/leave whenever they want… the train has to be much cheaper than motoring and provide the convenience of frequent services running. So if that is the perceived market of the future, it may not be feasible in reality (if the consumer has a free choice, of course, which is perhaps why politicians are trying to prevent certain choices with guff such as net zero used as an excuse).

    It all asks the question: has the railway had its day? Other than, perhaps, for freight.

  33. Bert+Young
    November 6, 2023

    I have not used the railway for many many years and I certainly have no reason to do so now . I am shocked at the journey prices some of the responders have mentioned – obviously the scarcity of rail passengers is self explanatory . Public transport is a necessity nowadays to decrease the excessive volume of cars on the road but trains and the associated price of car parking at and at nearby carparks to rail stations are no solution .

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      November 6, 2023

      All Go Northeast bus drivers are on indefinite strike. Nobody can depend on public transport to go anywhere. Get a diesel car!

      1. glen cullen
        November 6, 2023

        Government solution = Build more cycle lanes

  34. Derek
    November 6, 2023

    The statistics tell us all that clearly, HS2 is a non-runner. How did it ever get this far?
    When travelling becomes cheaper to fly than to go by train it’s time for the rail companies to take stock of their pricing structure. They should also consider the cost of a rail journey compared to one on the roads.
    It seems the rail companies do not understand their “competition” and price their tickets on a cost plus basis which does not attract passengers. If their costs are too high, they’ll certainly be on a hiding unless they can substantially reduce their overheads.
    I suggest they send a research team out to Japan to discover how it is done very successfully.

    1. Mickey Taking
      November 6, 2023

      Having been swirled along at breakneck pace, pushed onto a carriage doorway and have all manner of human extremities forced upon my person – in Tokyo central station – in what I didn’t think was rush-hour (salaryman travel time) – I question what you say is successful?.

      1. Derek
        November 7, 2023

        They’re popular, make a profit and often run on time? How else can we measure the success of any business?
        As for crowding, Tokyo has a population of 37.2M and London just 9.5M, yet TfL is always a crush.

    2. a-tracy
      November 8, 2023

      Derek, I couldn’t believe one of my children didn’t fly to London instead of the train (5-hour journey) £150 return, booked weeks in advance with a rail discount card. They could have flown for £63 return booking a couple of days before travel in just 1hr 40 mins each way, then 24 mins for £2.30 each way.

  35. Sakara Gold
    November 6, 2023

    The serious allegations of repeated sexual assaults, multiple rapes, bullying and other unsavoury issues surrounding the parliamentary party are now a considerable embarassment. Even worse, it seems that the whips knew of the latest multiple rape allegations and there are now suggestions of a “cover up” – which is itself a criminal offence

    This boil needs lancing immediately. Those involved should be named under parliamentary priviledge, regardless of their seniority or position in government. This will stave off a media feeding frenzy and allow the public to be reassured that this is not another “partygate” in the making

    Reply Rape is a very serious crime. It is investigated by the police who decide if there is evidence to warrant a criminal charge.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      November 6, 2023

      Reply to reply. Indeed, and all are innocent until proven guilty. Vexatious assertions need to attract very serious punishment and public humiliation.

  36. RichardP
    November 6, 2023

    With strikes, the wrong kind of weather, random cancellations, silly Covid rules and all the other excuses for not running expected services, people have found that public transport is frustrating to use. Add in the clear intention to make private cars unaffordable for the majority, the population will become less mobile.
    People will only be willing to travel short distances for work, leisure and shopping. Net result a failing economy. Zero Carbon Zero Wealth.

  37. Ed M
    November 6, 2023

    I think the priority at moment is to get MAJOR change in Parliament:

    1) SELL OFF PALACE OF WESTMINSTER (but obviously preserve the medieval part)
    – This would save sooo much money instead of restoring
    – Sets a strong message to rest of country, that politicians really are into cost-cutting (so we’re practical cost-cutters instead of ideological cost-cutters – that we do what we preach).
    – Get rid of the old-f-art atmosphere at Westminster (and ideology – from both the left and right).
    – Create a new message to the country about being progressive / entrepreneurial – and in touch with modern world

    – Get rid of Tory bureaucrats and old f-rts with no proper business experience (being a PR guru / ex-journalist / lawyer / minor business role doesn’t count).
    – And instead attract Tories who have done a Business Plan. Created a company that has hired high skilled workers and exported a high quality brand abroad. Something like that. Tories with proper business experience.

    Sure, a lot to ask for but got to start somewhere. Things as they stand are not sustainable.

    Reply The Palace is a Victorian building of great historical and architectural significance. It is best preserved by using it as our Parliament.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      November 6, 2023

      ‘Progressive’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ are mutually exclusive.

    2. Ed M
      November 6, 2023

      I spent many long summers in my grandfather’s house (and Protestant not Catholic – on my Mum’s side) in England, a large country house and estate that he had inherited from his father – and all the way back, father to son, for over 500 years (yes, and Eton and Oxford / Cambridge – for generations / centuries – proper old school).
      I’m proud of my grandfather and his family but equally I’d be proud of my grandfather if he’d been a humble bricklayer or a postman from Yorkshire. Now I have no time whatsoever for BS nostalgia (if I’d inherited my grandfather’s house – I’d preserve it and make the most of it and enjoy it). I have far more time for people such as Michael O’Leary than all the old farts who want to hang on to tradition for tradition-sake (tradition is great but not at any cost). Now I want to do well as an entrepreneur – standing up on my own two feet, instead of relying on others for my own success – and on their coattails – whether the coattails be of an Old Etonian or the coattails of a hotel butler …

    3. Mickey Taking
      November 6, 2023

      reply to reply … then seriously reduce the number who can attend, giving time for appreciation of this interesting but needing £millions/ £billions on repair, refit and restoration.

    4. Peter
      November 6, 2023

      Ed M,

      This is a wish list. Like previous posts where you want the country to return to old schools values, an appreciation of our culture, respect for one another, an industrious approach to life etc etc. This is beyond the scope of politicians.

      I think the Houses of Parliament should stay. Better than a fancy hotel, apartment buildings or a huge Wetherspoon (Tim Martin would be deterred by the cost of repairs anyway). Cost cutting has its limits. I still miss the old Post Offices, Police stations and Fire stations. Public buildings are important and should be kept unless there is a very good reason to abandon them. It is an intangible, but I find it strange that you would want to quit these places given your attachment to earlier times.

      1. Ed M
        November 6, 2023

        I’m not comfortable about getting rid of the Houses of Parliament (I didn’t mean knock down – but move out). However, I think that Parliament should stay there for tradition-sake.
        But might there be a possibility to keep the best bits (1. obviously the medieval parts 2. Big Ben 3. The River Front and 4. The Victoria Tower) – and knock the rest. And rebuild (but aesthetically-pleasing) and to save money (and so sending a message to the country about the importance of saving) as well as a new building that reflects modern UK (the old building symbolised the Empire – I am NOT knocking the Empire – but I AM knocking nostalgia. Being nostalgic breeds laziness and complacency and so on. I want our country to be sharp again, entrepreneurial, mobile, down-to-earth / realistic etc.

        So a case of being both a TRADITIONALIST (hanging on to the best bits) and a PROGRESSIVE (looking forward to how we can shape our country for the future – in the best, most efficient, way forward etc, but keeping the best of the past too).

        Reply The only medieval part is Westminster Hall. The rest is a magnificent Victorian interpretation of Gothic capturing the Victorian age and its view of English and Union history. It is a hugely important building which must be kept

      2. Ed M
        November 6, 2023

        ‘This is beyond the scope of politicians’

        – True. But Conservatism shouldn’t just be a political thing (it is and should of course be that). But embrace a wider scope. And that politicians should be working with people outside politics too – in the churches, media, arts and education so that we preserve what is best about Conservative culture in general (the values and world of Jane Austen is very Conservative, for example – I think she’s great). And with a wider scope / support, Conservative politicians would be able to achieve a lot more in politics anyway. It’s like we’ve created this split between Conservative Politics and Conservative everything else. When Conservatism should be integrated overall – like a movement or something.

      3. Ed M
        November 8, 2023

        ‘This is a wish list. Like previous posts where you want the country to return to old schools values, an appreciation of our culture, respect for one another, an industrious approach to life etc etc. This is beyond the scope of politicians’

        – but that’s exactly what Sylvia Braverman. She is trying to change the culture through politics.

        I agree with her that there are huge problems with our culture. But you need a bigger scope to deal with that. If she wants to change the culture, then she needs to be saying that politicians need to work closer with people in the churches, education, the arts and media to change the culture – to make it better. To 1) Increase work ethic 2) Increase patriotism 3) Increase sense of responsibility towards others including family etc 4) To rely more on family instead of the state

        Her way won’t work. It will just lead to chaos.
        The only way to change the culture (and with strong leadership) is through politicians working closely or more closely with those in the churches, education, arts and media. Not easy I know. But possible (and Mrs Thatcher would agree with me – she got so many of her values from her Methodist background).

  38. Denis Cooper
    November 6, 2023

    Off topic, I’ve just watched a discussion on housing shortages and at no point did any of the participants even mention the mass immigration which the government continues to allow and encourage.

    For that I would have to turn to Reform UK:


    “Our population has grown by over 10 million in the UK in some 15 years”

    That is not quite my calculation:


    “In 2005 the UK population was 60.4 million, now it is about 67.7 million; that growth is predominantly down to net immigration from abroad, and undeniably every person who comes here needs a roof over their head.”

    but the point is the same; whether we have a Labour government or a Tory government, whether we are in or out of the EU, we still have the same unwanted, essentially uncontrolled and unlimited, mass immigration.

  39. glen cullen
    November 6, 2023

    While I don’t disagree with SirJ I believe that todays topic needs wider analysis –
    2,000 green jobs lost due to net-zero/esg with the cancelation of coke blast fired furnace and the introduction of electric arc fired furnace
    The end of UK iron ore steel making due to this government
    British Steel owned by a Chinese company
    All steel materials imported from China & India
    We have lost our own ability to make and product steel for railway lines, trains and infrastructure ….due to the policies of net-zero, go tell those 2,000 people that their lost jobs are saving the planet

  40. a-tracy
    November 6, 2023

    How much does each adult over 18 contribute to rail in the UK? Can’t we have a pass that we can redeem that amount on trainline off peak?

  41. Margaret
    November 6, 2023

    Of course John this is correct.Time management shouldn’t be so standardised.It is difficult to be flexible and look at peak travelling times but I bet there is a software programmer hat all adhere to.

    In general practice the software allows for 10 min appointments where some take half an hour and others 5mins.Can’t change it because the computer says no.

  42. Lindsay McDougall
    November 10, 2023

    Railway supply should be reduced to match demand. There would be some routes cancelled, some routes with lower frequency and the promise of no redundancies should be withdrawn. In order to keep fares down and ensure full carriages, there should be three classes of travel – business class, standard class and standing room only carriages. This last category would require creative design and would be for hale and hearty young passengers.

    Over a period of years, our railway industry would be returned to profit by raising Network Rail’s track access charges to ensure Network Rail broke even or better. Only the financially viable rail services would be retained.

    If this policy were to be adopted, RMT and ASLEF might negotiate more reasonably. At the moment, they keep complaining that Network Rail would pay them more but the Government is stopping them. But Network Rail are making stonking great losses and are quite literally irresponsible.

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