I took the train to Manchester. I had pre booked a heavily discounted first class ticket months ago. My outbound ticket cost £59, and my return ticket a very reasonable £34.50.
The Monday morning train was scheduled to depart at 9.00 and arrive at 11.07. It did leave on time, but half way into the journey we were advised that the train had to divert, and would arrive half an hour late. My previous journey to Manchester, going on the first train in the morning from Euston, was more than half an hour late owing to late departure through the absence of train crew. Surveys show that the thing that matters most to passengers, including me, is punctuality. We can plan our days if the trains run to time. We are much less concerned about major investment to lop twenty minutes off the journey time, than we are about not suffering a 30 minute delay to a stated time.
There were just 8 people in a 42 seater carriage on Monday morning, despite the Conservative conference potentially boosting trade. I asked one of the staff about the low level of use. He replied that this Monday was busier than usual, and assured me there were some more people in other carriages. I could see through the glass door panels that the adjacent coaches also had a substantial number of empty seats.
The train I came back on was the last train on that day. It meant leaving Manchester at an early 21.25. Train schedules do not allow you to go to an evening event or have dinner at normal times, and return to London. That train did exactly what it said on the ticket. They even managed to provide a white bread sandwich, a cake, and a cup of tea within the £34.50 price, for all those of us who had not yet eaten. There were just 10 people in the carriage.
What do I conclude? Once again I have seen no evidence of a shortage of train capacity on the London-Manchester railway. One way to increase capacity and to encourage more business would be to run later trains as well. Punctuality is the key to persuading more of us to use the trains more of the time. We need to fill the existing seats more, before worrying about a whole new railway.
PS: MPs do pay for their own travel and accommodation for party conferences. I think that is right. I suspect the taxpayer pays for the travel and accommodation of all the public sector lobbyists, BBC reps etc