The Right to Stand in First Class 310

For every one mile one passenger travels, the British taxpayer pays an average 8 pence subsidy to the train operating company. That is an average of 8p per mile subsidy for every single journey for every single passenger. That is, of course, in addition to your train fare.

The train fare system in the UK is ridiculously complicated, so much so that it makes comparison to other countries difficult in searching for like for like fares. The simple methodology adopted by this site linked to finds the UK has the second most expensive train fares in Europe. This further site linked to finds Britain has the most expensive commuter fares of eight expensive comparators. This Sky News investigation found some stunning examples of comparable British tickets being around three to four times more expensive than comparable fares in France and Germany.

Since privatisation, taxpayers have paid much more money in real terms to the rail network that they gave to British Rail, as shown by official government statistics.

Much of that taxpayer money has simply gone to the profits of the subsidised train operating companies – which peculiarly are for the most part foreign state-owned railway companies. As trains get ever more filthy and overcrowded, the promised privatisation benefits of passenger experience remain elusive.

I attended a family funeral in Norfolk just before Easter. as such events are necessarily unplanned, and I would have to come home on Good Friday when trains are very busy, I bought a first class ticket from Peterborough to Edinburgh at great expense, but ended up standing from Peterborough to Berwick. My ticket was, from memory, £210. On arrival at Edinburgh I went to Virgin customer services to ask if I might have some refund. I was told that as I had an open ticket and no reservation, I was not guaranteed a seat. I pointed out that I had received no food and no drink, as entitled by a first class ticket. The lady replied that these were “complimentary” and that meant they were a gift and not an entitlement with the ticket.

I replied that I had received no benefit from my first class ticket, neither a seat nor any refreshment, so I should at least be refunded the difference between a first and second class ticket. No, the lady replied, I had the right to stand in a first class carriage. She really did say that.

Today Britain’s train operating companies are launching a consultation on rail fares, which precludes from the start the notion that fares should be cheaper. It sounds like their motive is an attempt to remove their legal obligation to issue discounted season tickets to commuters, dressed up in guff about “flexibility” and new technology.

The urgent need is the renationalisation of the railways and for Britain to catch up with the more enlightened world in the rolling out of high speed rail. I view HS2 as a minor idea, compared to the need to provide high speed rail all the way to Aberdeen and Inverness, with a high speed network connecting all the UK cities of over 500,000 people, and involving multiple direct links to a variety of European cities. This is the kind of public project which can have a revitalising economic effect. If the Victorians could undertake economic projects on that scale with a much inferior construction technology, then so can we.

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310 thoughts on “The Right to Stand in First Class

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    • Martinned

      You say that as if it’s some great insight that capitalist companies pursue profit.

      It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

      A nationalised railway company gets lobbied by unions and is under pressure from voters (= tax payers and/or fare payers). There are no perfect solutions here. You just have to pick your poison given the circumstances you’re in.

      Nationalised rail gives you low fares and a service that is poor quality and permanently underfunded. Privatisation gives you gold plating and possibly higher fares, depending on how much subsidy the government is willing to put up. Crony capitalism gives you the worst of both worlds. Pick one.

      • laguerre

        “Nationalised rail gives you low fares and a service that is poor quality and permanently underfunded. ”

        That true in Holland, is it? Not in France, that I can bear witness to. If you take rail to be a service to the society, as the French do to a degree, then the logic is that it is worth putting money into. Not that investment is an open-ended policy, even in France.

        With great respect to your professional experience, your Thatcherite-style choices are not the only way, just the currently popular selection. People have to travel, increasingly so, and they have a right to a degree of service and aid from their government.

        • Martinned

          Just out of curiosity, which model do you think France and the Netherlands have? Because they certainly don’t have a privatised model.

          O, and for the record, I didn’t say which model I preferred. (It depends on the circumstances.) I just laid out the consequences of each choice.

          • laguerre

            “O, and for the record, I didn’t say which model I preferred. (It depends on the circumstances.) I just laid out the consequences of each choice.”

            You laid out a Thatcherite set of choices, as I said. That dictates what you think.

        • Jeff

          Belgian railways are even better than Netherlands, not privatised, clockface timetable, everyone gets a seat and affordable fares. Tory/Labour gov’ts in the UK that held the nationalised BR back by starving it of funding. We could have had one of the best and affordable railways in the world if it wasn’t for Westminster politicians using the railways as a football and to subsidise road users.

          • Martinned

            …and so your proposal is to restore the railways to public ownership?

            The idea is to compare the options that are actually available to you, not to compare the status quo with an ideal version of how well a proposed reform might work out in a perfect world.

        • Bayard

          “That true in Holland, is it? Not in France, that I can bear witness to. ”
          Laguerre, from your nickname, you might well be living in France, but most of us on here live in Britain, so what the French or Germans do with their railways is hardly relevant. We know what a nationalised railway in this country, run and staffed by British employees, subject to British politicians and funded by the British taxpayer would be like, it would be British Rail.

      • Jo Dominich

        Privatisation has certainly not given anything like gold plating. It has given astronomical train fares, an extremely poor level of service delivery and continuous delays and cancellations. I don’t remember British Rail ever, ever being as bad as that which we have now. Give me the Nationalised rail service any day.

        • Martinned

          The fares are a political choice independent from privatisation.

          As for your recollection of BR, people both on the left and on the right tend to have hindsight with rose-tinted glasses…

          • SA

            You make the assumption that as , in your view the nationalised BR was not up to scratch, you assume that renationalisation now will also be bad. On the way to this conclusion you ignore:
            1. That the privatised railways are still heavily subsidised by the tax payers and that some of this subsidy therefore flows into the pockets of shareholders as dividends.
            2. That effectively Network rail has had to be stealth renationalised but this fact is not widely advertised.
            3. That the world has changed and that a renationalised railways will be the same as that pre thatcher.

          • Jeff

            The privatised train companies get many times more in subsidy from the taxpayer than BR ever did, most of it going into shareholder’s pockets – and BR had to maintain the tracks and signalling as well. Franchises can be brought back under public control for free – just as soon as each one runs out – and can be run not for profit, pay back millions of pounds that could be ring-fenced for rail improvements, or given away to the Treasury (as did the East Coast Main Line when it was recently ad all too briefly back under public ownership). It is Tory ideology backed up by NuLabour false promises that allow our comedy rail system to continue.

        • certa certi

          Japan’s railways were privatised some 30 years ago and there’s been minimal price rises for tickets. Their lithium battery for rail research is ahead of the pack and vanadium will be even cheaper. Privatisation doesn’t have to use a Thatcherite model. btw if you want to invest in Vanadium I suggest the Speewah Dome.

  • Sharp Ears

    Railways. NHS. What next? Oh! It’s a private police force.

    Private police force will hit streets of Britain to fill void created by austerity
    8 May 2018

    ‘My local bobby’ – a private police force organization – is to roll out its services nationwide after successful trials in three of London’s Britain’s richest neighborhoods, including Mayfair, Kensington and Belgravia.

    Coming to a street near you, if you can afford the monthly client fee of up to £200 (€228) a month, your ‘local bobby’ will be accessible to you via a direct line, can be tracked on an ipad, and may even afford you the added VIP treatment of meeting and greeting you from tube stations or your car, reports The Evening Standard.


    ‘My Local Bobby’ has been set up by two ex Met police officers to counter the effects of the loss of 21,000 police officers under the Tory
    Os-Terri-Ty project.

    What’s next? The fire service?
    Remembering the days in the C18 and C19 when a fire was put out only if you had a plaque displayed.

    • Martinned

      Sounds like a great way to get rich people to voluntarily pay higher taxes, resulting in more police presence in the rest of London.

      • laguerre

        It’s a private security force, not a matter of paying taxes to the government. They’re just calling themselves “police”, but aren’t. They wouldn’t have arrest powers, for example.

        • Martinned

          Yes… did I say different?

          Question still remains: why would anyone object to that? It’s still rich people paying out of their own pockets for something the government would otherwise have to pay for out of tax money, leaving at least some police resources to be used elsewhere. Sounds like a win/win to me.

    • Republicofscotland

      Hello is this the police I need help!!!!!!

      Reply, please enter your credit card details then press the # key.

      Arrrrgggghh!!!!!! Too late (haunting scream in background).

  • Geoffrey

    Two weeks ago I paid €39 for a very comfortable train between Berlin and Warsaw, and I had a nice lunch for about €10… breaded veal, I think, pudding and a coffee. Then a comfortable sleeper between Warsaw and Lviv for about €50 and then luxury sleeper between Lviv and Odessa for about €60 and one more sleeper between Odessa and Kiev for about €40.
    I did get a bit stuffed between London and Berlin when the best ticket I could find was 1st Class for €280.00 but luckily for me the train was just over 2 hours late and I received a 50% refund. DeutsheBahn have already already sent the €140.00 s to my bank account ! All I had to do was fill in one form with the help of a very helpful lady at Berlin station, with no arguments whatsoever .

      • Hagar

        Try a Freedom of Information Request to your local council to find out what it is costing you for your PFI schools, hospitals and everything else that has been lumped onto your Council Tax. Plus, ask who these financiers are, and where do they come from.
        It will be difficult. Don’t give up and be prepared to be shocked and disgusted.
        Good luck.

  • giyane

    The scholars of Islam define human rights as shelter, water and food. This minimum common denominator attitude is obviously intended to disabuse people of the idea of there being a basic human right to luxuries or wealth. That’s fine seen in the context it was intended to be seen in , that the Muslim leaders are just, honest and caring. but it certainly is not fine in the context that Islamist organisations that want to grab political power at the expense of the civilian Muslim populations. Syria Yemen

    • Bayard

      “The scholars of Islam define human rights as shelter, water and food. ”
      Are you sure that’s all? There seem to be many commenters on this blog who think that that list should at a minimum include the right to a cheap, clean, reliable railway system.

  • reel guid

    Sooner or later it’s going to dawn on the very dim Tory MSPs that the power grab will finish Holyrood, in which case they’ll all be out of a job. Or it will severely diminish Holyrood to the fury of the Scottish people, in which case they’ll all be voted out of a job.

    Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn tried to get the Labour peers to abstain on the single market vote in the Lords. And they ignored him. The dirty rotten Blairites. Trying to protect jobs instead of hearing the Jezziah’s good news message.

  • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

    Does Robert Peel’s Parliamentary Trains Act (1844)requiring railway companies to run at at least one train a day at not more than a penny a mile still have any legal effect or could it somehow be enforced?
    Just sending this from a cafe by the Arch of Galerius marking the war of Rome against the Persians 1700 years ago.How far we have progressed since then,God wot.

    • Martinned

      FYI, the effect of that act was that all train companies ran a penny train at 6 am, trying to make sure that as few people as possible would actually use it. Unintended consequences…

      (And I looked, and while I’m pretty sure the Railway Regulation Act 1844 has been repealed, I couldn’t find out when.)

      • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

        There were certainly a lot of jokes about people picking flowers and getting back on the trains,agreed. At least the intention was right , more than can be said for today’s Parliaments of our Kingdoms.I was unable to check on the Act;s residual validity ,despite articles about one a day trains .

  • Radar O’Reilly

    Nice to see Bibi in red square this morning, he possibly was there to get a close-up view of the S-400 triumf and some of the other pointy toys.

    Coming up to the soulful Victory Day parade, I had read that the latest snowmobile would be demo’d, I postulated artificial snow, or a special ice-track but it was just stuck on the back of a truck!

  • Monster

    Don’t forget the ultra rip-off from rail privatisation, the Roscos, rolling stock leasing companies which own all carriages and trucks on the network and lease them back to the operators. These companies were given the assets, almost free of charge and provide largely old rolling stock at very high fees. Perversely, Network Rail, which owns all the track and signalling, charges very low fees to encourage profiteering by the private operators. It has a debt mountain of about £43 billion, which, of course, is taxpayer debt since Network Rail is a government organisation, allbeit once removed.

        • Inconsistent

          What business is that of yours? (As you would say if someone asked you)

        • Martinned

          I do, just not very busy today.

          (In case you meant to ask whether I work for the European Institutions, the answer is no, obviously. If I did, I’d be out celebrating Europe day now.)

  • Ian

    Thank you again Craig. Well researched and well articulated. We have given away the family silver only to be charged to have a look at occasionally. Ian

  • Deepgreenpuddock

    part of the problem with transport and railways is that in victorian times rail was the only possibility of fast travel.
    nowadays of course rail has to compete with road transport and air. i am not really surprised at the state of british railways as it refects the underlying attitude of the majority- that car or plane is preferable to rail. I personally do not share that attitude. i find rail preferable for both short and ‘longish’ distance travel but the flexibility of the car and the speed of air travel and the fact thatso many people have invested so heavily in cars means that rail will not prosper without strategic decision making. in addition it must seem as likely that the technoloy of cars and air may be as susceptible to technical advances as rail so investment in rail is essentially stalled and in the hands of the grubber/grabber mentality ie tories of those who are plundering theprivatised rail system for whatever profit it can provide. As always we need more than the market to decide the best outcomes.

    • laguerre

      Rail still has a very major place in the national transport system, and, although you may be a car driver yourself, rail is not on the decline, in spite of all the privatised companies’ efforts.

      • Deepgreenpuddock

        i am not disagreeing with you. just suggesting that untl the effective but hidden subsidisation of car transport is changed rail will always play second or third fiddle. it is also related to the failure of authority and political will and acquiescence to neoliberal values and failure to acknowledge the environmental and human costs of relatively cheap fuel. if pollution and health costs and energy footprints of cars taken into account there would be no contest. rail would be the prime transport system.

      • Bayard

        “rail is not on the decline, in spite of all the privatised companies’ efforts”
        Rail usage was declining under public ownership, but has been growing under private ownership. This has led to overcrowding and an ex-ambassador having to stand in first class. Obviously the solution is to return the railways to public ownership where usage can start to decline once more and the fall in the number of passengers will mean that ex-ambassadors will be able to find a seat, assuming, that is, that the railway line he wants to use hasn’t been closed.

  • Bayard

    “Much of that taxpayer money has simply gone to the profits of the subsidised train operating companies”
    Craig, I am surprised at you producing something worthy of the MSM in the extend to which it is misleading. That graph does not differentiate between money paid as a subsidy to TOCs and money invested in the infrastructure, although it quite clearly includes thelatter. Money invested in the infrastructure is not benefiting the TOCs at all. If it benefits any organisation, it is the state-owned Network Rail. Without that differentiation, it is impossible to tell whether the rise in support for the railways by the government has resulted in more subsidies for actually running trains or not.
    “This is the kind of public project which can have a revitalising economic effect. If the Victorians could undertake economic projects on that scale with a much inferior construction technology, then so can we.”
    It may have slipped your notice, but the large scale Victorian economic project that was the building of the railways was not a public project, it was a private one.
    Something else that seems to have slipped the notice of all those commenters on here clamouring for a return to British Rail was that the entire period that the railways were in public hands was characterised by a constant shrinking of the network with the corresponding loss of thousands of jobs, of which the Beeching cuts were just the worst example, but certainly neither the beginning nor the end. This process almost completely stopped with privatisation and, in many cases has been reversed, notably in Scotland, with the partial re-opening of the Waverley line.

    • Jeff

      The rail system was run down by Tory and Labour alike – it was the ideology that was wrong. If ‘British Rail’ returned and was handed as much taxpayers money today as are the crooks running the TOC’s we could have a very fine rail system indeed…… and as for “Money invested in the infrastructure is not benefiting the TOCs at all.”…do they not need the infrastructure to run on? 10mph speed restriction, anyone?

  • Gary

    As with many things, trains in particular and politics in general, it seems to be the case that nothing is run for the benefit of the user/the people.

    Ideas such as running ANYTHING for the benefit of the people are seen as ‘populist’ and therefore silly, anti-business, bad for ‘the economy’

    We seem to accept this without any thought, but exactly who SHOULD benefit from the government’s policy if not the people?

    We have been hoodwinked for decades into believing that it is stupid to run a country for the benefit of those who live in it. yet that is EXACTLY what should be done..

    • SA

      You have hit the nail on the head. The democracy we supposedly have is a sham. Whereas internationalist communists believed in cross border collaboration between worker lead governments, the neoliberal globalists governments work together against the majority.Sadly communism was highjacked and misrepresented and is now a dirty word. The consequence is that now the new left has no alternative ideology other than merely to soften the effects for the majority, of the rampant capitalist gangster economy.

      • Bayard

        “The democracy we supposedly have is a sham”
        It’s always been a sham. The only democratic element in our “democracy” is the referendum and we won’t be seeing any of those for a couple of generations, after the people voted the wrong way. Still, we are slightly better off than Ireland, where the people were told that they’d got it wrong, to do it again and get it right this time.

        • SA

          I don’t agree that the referendum in this issue was a real democratic choice because the how of getting out of europe was then left to a minority government propped up by a parochial party.

          • Bayard

            Yup, that was always the strongest reason for voting to keep things as they were, that any change was going to have to be managed by the Tories.

  • Sharp Ears

    Carne (Spanish for ‘meat’ 🙂 ) announces his new gambit. Digital signalling.

    Digital revolution signals faster trains
    Faster, more frequent trains are being promised by Network Rail as it embarks on a digital overhaul to cope with rising passenger numbers, ageing equipment and the construction of HS2.

    The aim is for 70% of journeys to benefit from digital technology by the time HS2 reaches Manchester in 2033.

    Routes into various London mainline stations and across the Pennines will be the first to benefit.

    Network Rail described it as “a turning point in the history of our railways”.

    More than half the UK’s analogue signalling systems will need to be replaced in the next 15 years.’

    There is obviously a PR push ongoing. When asked about the effect of this new ‘investment’ on fare rises and the condition of lavatories on intercity trains, there were no answers from Mr Carne.

    Many of us will be dead by 2033!

    • Bayard

      Are you being disapproving of our publicly-owned railway system? That’s not going to make you many friends on here. Surely it’s a good thing that the government is investing in the national infrastructure?

  • Sharp Ears

    No irony here.. From the National Crime agency to Network Rail!

    ‘Caroline Murdoch takes Network Rail comms helm

    Network Rail has appointed Caroline Murdoch as group comms director. Currently deputy director and director of corporate affairs at the National Crime Agency, she will join on 26 February. Prior to the NCA, Murdoch was corporate affairs chief for Transport for London.

    Network Rail’s previous comms lead Barney Wyld left late last year for Rolls-Royce.

    Network Rail also today announced new group HR director Alison Rumsey, an internal promotion, and new non-exec Mike Putnam, previously president and CEO of Skanska UK.

  • Sharp Ears

    Company news elsewhere. The disposability of a human work force.

    13,000 jobs to go at BT. Sales down. Profits up.

    The CEO, Gavin Patterson, is one of the professional snake oil salesmen. ‘Ex European head of marketing at Procter & Gamble for their Pantene line of hair products In 2000, he joined the cable company Telewest, managing their television services. In 2004, he moved to BT to be the managing director of their consumer division.’ Wikipedia. In 2008, he was on the Board.

    He was the president of the Advertising Association. The current AA president is Tim Lefroy. ‘Starting as a commercial apprentice Tim had senior marketing roles with Cadbury and Gillette before moving into advertising. He was a director at McCann Erickson and CEO successively of Yellowhammer and Young & Rubicam, before setting up Radical, a change management consultancy.’

    Back to Patterson

    May 2016. D Mirror – BT chief executive bags £5.4million pay and perks boost as firm hits customers with price hikes. Gavin Patterson’s lucrative deal includes £3million bonus for work done three years ago plus a £1million annual bonus.

    May 2017 Independent. – According to the group’s annual report published on Thursday, Gavin Patterson took home £1.35m for the most recent year, a dramatic reduction from the £5.28m he was handed last year. His benefits package was cut from £57,000 to £53,000 but his base salary was nudged 2.5 per cent higher to £993,000.


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