Recently there seems to have been a buzz about the price of rail fares. The timing of this is a bit strange, because this is the first year that rail fares have not risen by any important amount. The previous few years have seen 7% annual increases to the cost of rail travel and nobody seemed to care much then.
I pay a sizeable chunk of money for rail travel and I don’t think the price is the biggest problem that the rail network has. The bigger problems are capacity and reliability, both of which are related – the capacity often seems low because previous trains were cancelled and now we have 10 carriage worth’s of people trying to cram into four carriages.
I am happy to see prices rise with inflation, and maybe even slightly above, as long as two things are done:
1. Make it easy to claim back money when services are delayed. For season ticket holders, this should be a click of a button. Any delay over five minutes should qualify for a percentage of the cost of the journey (obviously there are considerations with exactly what a single journey means when applied to a season ticket, but a few simple and workable solutions spring to mind quickly). I think we’d be surprised just how well the trains could run if rail companies could only take money for the services they were really providing instead of the ridiculous business model they have now where passengers charitably donate money and hope a train turns up.
2. Invest in better trains. If platform announcements are to be believed, a lot of delays are caused by “a fault on a train” and this is easy to believe when half the trains on the network appear to be 1980s buses that somebody has strapped to the tracks.
Investment in better trains must also include getting rid of drivers and replacing them with computers. Driverless trains open up the world of centralised real time algorithmic scheduling which would see trains running more frequently and closer together while being just as safe.