The latest rise in fares reminds us how the dire financial and operational performance of Network Rail imposes a big financial burden on commuters.
We have a very popular railway – a set out routes and train services into and out of our main cities – where overcrowding and overcharging go hand in hand, as people ride to work standing. We also have an underused railway, with many long distance and cross country routes offering deeply discounted fares to fill some of the many empty seats available daily.
Broadly speaking, the working age population pay the high fares to go to work, or to go to leisure events at week-ends on special trains, whilst leisure travellers are more common in the discount seats during the day.
The first task of the railway should be to get capacity more into line with demand. We clearly need more trains into and out of main cities at busy times. That requires lighter trains, better signals, and some additional bypass track. We need shorter trains on many other routes. I have written here before about the largely empty trains I sometimes use to get to the main Northern cities first thing in the morning.
Selling more tickets for the less busy trains would be great.The railway does not seem to understand its customer base well. As an occasional user of long distance trains I regularly am offered promotion tickets to go to a Northern city. The truth is I have to visit these cities for my work, so it is not ticket price determining how often I go. If I am going to be attracted to go for leisure or pleasure, then the ticket promotion needs to be linked to some other offer or attraction.