For the last 20 years, usage of the railways has rapidly increased with many professionals, students and workers using them as their primary means of transportation. With so many more people using the network one would assume that new improvements would have been made to the antiquated system. This, unfortunately, hasn’t been the case. People are increasingly forced to suffer in crowded carriages, not dissimilar to sardine cans. And with a further 3.1 per cent added to tickets in January, is it fair that the nation should be forced to be pay more for an unimproved service?
I am a frequent user of the railways and journey to Oxford, Bath and Waterloo very often. In 2018 I believe I caught only one train which was actually on time! This is an utterly appalling efficiency rate and is one of the biggest gripes of many commuters. Furthermore, I wish to apologise to those living in the North; you must think I’m an utter snob as the complete lack of infrastructural support and investment their is utterly unacceptable. I recently turned 16 and it came as a little bit of a shock to me about the colossal hike in prices. Even with a Railcard I don’t think a journey standing from Bath to Southampton is worth £16 one way.
The railways are a key piece of national infrastructure and people make around 1.7bn journeys per year, many of these being in the South. Under the Railways bill of 1993 British Rail was broken up and the country was carved up into franchise routes. Currently there are 23 different franchises, many owned by German, French and Dutch governments. As private companies, money has to be paid out in dividends to private investors stopping profits from being used to further improve the railways. Rail privatisation has now currently been heralded as a resounding failure due to the poor performances of operators, but there are multiple ways to solve this.
One of the key issues we currently face is the disjointed relationship between Network Rail, the publicly funded infrastructure body, and the franchises themselves. Many delays are caused by the Victorian infrastructure not working or needing maintenance, which is under the jurisdiction of Network Rail. Franchises however get the blame and are left with a rabble of angry passengers. The problem with only operators being privatised leads to a sense of entitlement from them. They expect Network Rail to do its job and fix their region’s problem for them. However, as a state body, it is not run with the utmost efficiency and often fails to meet deadlines.
The big question currently being asked is, should the railways be re-nationalised? Championed by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, they say that re-nationalisation will improve the railways and bring cheaper tickets to the masses. Although I personally believe in the re-nationalisation of the network, I think that in these turbulent times the Government must focus its efforts elsewhere. Re-nationalisation would require huge amounts of time, effort and additional funding and without the best transport secretary it will likely fall into chaos.
A solution, which I like to call my own, is that of using technology to improve the lives of commuters and companies alike. Using a smart card, similar to an Oyster, where one taps in and out of the station could be linked to a national database which would gather huge amounts of data about that journey. For instance, if it was late then you would automatically not be charged as much for having to stand. A link to facial recognition CCTV could well take a few pounds off the price of your ticket. I’m not thinking that this can happen overnight but it certainly has potential. Companies could also benefit with a redistribution of resources from almost empty Super Off-Peak trains to Peak times to increase revenue and decrease commuter misery. This would certainly be the least disruptive method of reforming the system. Not too much infrastructure, easy to use and beneficial to all. What’s not to like?
One could also take a more bravado approach to the situation as is believed by Guardian editor for the North, Helen Pidd. She believes in only paying 80 per cent of the registered fair price by asking the guard directly. As much as I can appreciate this more direct approach, please refrain from doing so! The guard will just get in trouble if the company finds out, so if you do have really pressing concerns take them up with your operator’s head office not with any train staff.
I think in almost unanimous agreement, regardless of party, age or economic status, people believe our rail system needs a drastic change. Do what you will in the method you think is the best for a change, but please do something. It’s not fair that CEOs and investors should profit off the utter squalor people have to use. Our rail industry is harming young professionals and those who make this country tick. Do not stand for this!