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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 18:04 GMT
Is UK transport the worst in Europe?
The UK's railways are the worst in Europe, a government minister has admitted.

Europe Minister Peter Hain said the government had invested in the UK's transport system "far too late", and improving the railways was an "intractable problem".

Mr Hain's comments come as further strike action is set to cause misery for commuters in the south of England, Scotland and the north of England.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has come under attack from opposition parties for concentrating on foreign diplomacy in South Asia while the UK's rail network descended into "farce".

Does the UK have the worst railway system in Europe? How can the system be improved?


This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your comments

I holiday in the UK annually and ride the trains. In the 1960's I was in the UK with the US Air Force, rode perhaps twice weekly, and could not then understand the complaints about BR. I imagine most would like to go back to those days. I do not understand the complaints about slam door carriages. About the Time of the Clapham Junction crash it was said the railways were spending far too much money on paint schemes and new signing at stations instead of safety. I would rather see money to be spent on new rolling stock used instead for train protection systems, signalling and tracking, leaving refurbished slam door stock in service.
Dennis, USA

The trains may well be the worst in Europe; has this got anything to do with the fact that as a nation we pay the least percentage of GDP as tax? Of course it has - we want what the mainland Europeans have but we cant get rid of the Thatcherite mentality which says 'pay less tax'. We can't have it both ways. This also applies to all other areas of the public service. We need to grow up, nationalise and pay more tax!
Alastair, England

One reason that people find car travel cheaper than rail is because road transport does not pay the full cost of road and its effect on society and the environment. Why is it that money spent on rail is termed "subsidy", yet (far more) money spent on roads is called "investment"?
John Gwynne, England


Why can't they just get on with finding a solution?

Sandra, UK
The issue shouldn't be whether our system is better or worse than any other country but whether it is suitable for the needs of our country. Instead of politicians side-stepping the issue and making needless comparisons, why can't they just get on with finding a solution? It is fairly obvious we need one!
Sandra, UK

Tory policy was to run BR into the ground then privatise it. A lot of people, especially ex-ministers, made a lot of money out of the process. Blaming Stephen Byers now is comforting but it can't change the fact that we ignored this and must now pay the price.
TJ, UK

The rail network in this country has been in decline since it was privatised. It's ridiculous to assume that 20 or so companies can co-ordinate themselves and put the quality of service before profit. It will be difficult to renationalise the rail system but without that, or a merging of the zones run by the companies, we will continue to see the demise of our rail network. Even with a handful of companies running the network, they're unlikely to want to invest the billions of pounds required to put right the mess we have at the moment.
Chris Plant, Cumbria, UK


Only in Britain have I encountered the combination of very high prices and quite appalling service

Stephen James, London, UK
I have lived in France where the trains were quite expensive but generally very good. I have also lived in Africa where the trains were dreadful but very cheap. Only in Britain have I encountered the combination of very high prices and quite appalling service. How much longer are we going to put up with it?
Stephen James, London, UK

Recently, my journey from Dundee to Bristol became a series of breakdowns, electrical faults and other such delays. In the end, what was supposed to be a direct connection became a farce as I was herded onto six different services before reaching my destination several hours late. During the summer I thoroughly enjoyed an Inter-Rail trek around Europe, taking in 16 different cities over 5 weeks, and travelling by rail between each of them. Even during the busiest travelling period of the year, none of those rail networks had any memorable problems whatsoever. Is Britain's Rail Network the worst in Europe? By far.
Scott, Scotland

The rail system in the UK is easily the worst in Europe. I have lived in Switzerland and the Czech Republic, and even there, a place that no doubt conjures up images of crumbling infrastructure from years of communist neglect, buses, trains and trams are cheap, clean and reliable! After enduring two years in London I now live in Sydney where life on public transport is a breeze.

As an accountant I have seen the inside of many UK ex-state run giants. These beasts are the most horribly inefficient money eating machines on earth. Throwing money at existing management is not the answer - first and foremost these businesses need to be turned upside down, clear out the deadwood management and the free-riders. Money needs to be used to hire an army of talented people from the UK or overseas before any further infrastructure investment is even considered!
Dave, Australia

Whenever the media start to analyse the UK rail system, it always gets compared with the French TGV. It may amaze some readers that the rest of SNCF is not like the TGV. It is not appropriate to compare UK rail with the TGV, but it is more appropriate to compare their "normal" (TER) train service with ours - and last time I was in France, all of the TER trains at a major station were running at least 15 minutes late. Sure, the TGV is amazing, but we don't have a system like it in the UK, and it will take many years of major upgrades before we could. Oh, and if you think our trains are overpriced, try America's Amtrak trains - $80-$100 for a standard class advance ticket on the express from New York - Philadelphia (about the same as London - Bristol, which costs £25 advance single on the express train).
Timothy Vince, England


Stop the waffle and start blowing the whistle

Adam, Chelmsford
I find the trains dirty, smelly, too hot or too cold. Toilets are disgusting and staff unhelpful and rude. This is a topic that crops up year after year but nothing ever seems to be done. Stop the waffle and start blowing the whistle.
Adam, Chelmsford

I lived in the UK in 1995 and at that time the rail system, compared to that of France, was dismal. But I think it is quite unfair to blame Labour for a problem the Tories were unwilling to fix for over a decade. Place the blame squarely where it should be, at the feet of the shopkeeper's daughter and what's his name who came after her.
Stephen, USA

Our rail/tube system is appalling and not simply because of under-investment. Action which could be taken very quickly by the government would be to vastly increase financial penalties on companies running sub-standard services and to legislate against the ability of unions like the RMT to strike for trivial reasons (and I include only getting a decent pay rise rather than a huge one as trivial!).
Peter Preston, UK

You only need to travel to North America to find public transport in true dire straits. I live 100kms from Canada's largest city and until recently there was one commuter train in the morning. Several cities with populations in excess of 1 million people have no rail service whatsoever.
Mark, Canada

The only answer to getting large numbers of people about in heavily populated areas is public transport/walking and cycling. Note that far more people cycle in European cities than in the UK - that's down to a better cycling infrastructure and less aggressive driving habits.
Jonathan, UK


For 17 years many of us have voted for governments that let Britain fall behind the modernisation programmes of other countries

Ted Kerr, Guildford, Surrey, UK
It's very possible that it's the worst in Europe. The reason is that over the past 17 years many of us have voted for governments that let Britain fall behind the modernisation programmes of other countries. Their political philosophies have been very extreme and aggressive and they have chosen to run down services that had the emphasis on the communal side, rather than the on the individual. So in transport the car has been favoured over public forms of transport - this is one of the main reasons for our present problems.
Ted Kerr, Guildford, Surrey, UK

There is little doubt that the transport system is in chaos. But rather than try to figure out how to fix it our elected officials are happy to put all of their efforts into political posturing. I am continually astounded by the lack of any real action that successive governments take on any matter, let alone transport. I find it particularly offensive that politicians are constantly in election mode. Stop the bickering and sort it out - that is all the tax paying public want.
Mike, Switzerland


I avoid the transport system in the UK like the plague

Ralph, UK/Germany
I frequently travel in Europe and I love travelling by public transport there. It is reliable, clean and I affordable. I dread travelling in the UK. I am a student and have missed numerous lectures due to transport problems while having to pay for the lectures. To be frank I avoid the transport system like the plague. I think the problem in the UK is that problems facing society are left to market forces. There are not enough enforcement mechanisms to ensure the rail network is working properly.

It is left to managers and accountants who are warned occasionally that trains must run on time. Another problem is that even if the government had the courage to step in and sort out the railways it wouldn't have the rail experts needed to run it as most of them have been sacked already. I'm personally very pessimistic for the future development of UK transport policies and have thus decided to work from home as it saves me a lot of aggravation, frustration and a fortune of money.
Ralph, UK/Germany

I use the Docklands Light Railway and it's great. They currently want to extend it but the plans have been with the government for over a year pending approval. The rest of the London system is a disaster. I don't use the train for long trips as it is too expensive - why pay £100 return to York when you can drive for £40?
Andrew Brammer, England

At least in the UK you have a railway network. There are only about a dozen tracks in Ireland and absolutely none of the trains ever seem to run on time.
Kieran McNally, Ireland

Rather than despairing over the state of our shambolic transport network we should all be taking more direct action. Lobby your MP, work out how long your journey should take according to the laughable timetables and invoice the relevant transport provider for time delays. If we do not make a stand the issue will be given a cursory glance by the government and then put on the back burner. It is simply unacceptable that we have to wait for years for the government to make any form of decision on public transport.
Patrick, UK


My experience of European rail travel is of slow strike-ridden services

Martin, UK
My experience of European rail travel is of slow strike-ridden services with bare and drab carriages for the majority of services, with only a few flagship services, which make good political propaganda. The problem is not transport but lifestyle - people like working in and around Metropolis but like living in and around chocolate-box village. We have lovely towns and villages that can make a big difference to your quality of life when not working. We have collectively made a choice to sacrifice our working lives for the sake of our home lives. I personally would like to stay living where I am and work wherever I can find work.
Martin, UK

Martin, UK has hit the nail on the head. Commuters do have a choice as to where they live and work and it might be worth us all reflecting on whether people who can afford to commute by train in the first place are really entitled to demand almost unlimited amounts of public money to make their journeys more tolerable. Our transport system may well be the worst in Europe but are the patterns of commuting the same? If less people commuted, the pattern and frequency of services could be made more regular leading to efficiency savings all round. I choose to live only four miles from my work but even I have given up on the buses and have taken to my bike. So that's one less passenger and therefore one less seat that needs to be provided at peak times!
Steve, UK

I travelled extensively by rail in England last year on holiday with my mother. It is a pity that porters are no longer employed or that very few stations have lifts. Additionally on one Thameslink train the toilets were out of order. My mother is elderly and has asthma and at the end of our holiday we were exhausted and made up our minds not to do it again.
Maureen, Northern Ireland

It's not true that British railways are the worst in Europe. I went inter-railing recently and I can say with some authority that Spain's railways are the worst. They hardly go anywhere in the country, and they don't go more than about twice a day. By contrast, British railways look good.
Tom K, UK

Population density or vehicle density is not an excuse the UK can hide behind. The Netherlands is far worse for both, yet manages to have a better road and rail network.
Keith, UK

I'm a Londoner living in Berlin, and have travelled around Germany and France (via ICE and TGV respectively). I never fail to be impressed by Berlin's public transport, the punctuality, the cleanliness, the lack of rush-hour cramming that I'm used to on the tube in London. As far as national travel is concerned, the German speed services generally cost more than in England, but its worth it, and with the German Rail Management (Die Bahn) committed to some 40 Billion Marks (around £13 Billion) investment over the near future, I can't see the UK's public transport improving drastically without a similar commitment to investment.
Alec, Germany


Every time you face a delay you should follow the complaints procedure

Bernard, UK
What a load of moaners you all are. How many of you are actually willing to do something? Every time you face a delay you should follow the complaints procedure - less than 1% of people do, so the rail companies are laughing: if they had to pay out all the compensation due on complaints they would soon improve the service.

And driving isn't as bad as many make out - yes there are hold-ups if you drive at peak times, but no worse than I've experienced in a dozen European countries, and it would have been better if New Labour hadn't stopped every major road improvement scheme the moment they got into power.
Bernard, UK

If you were to transport animals in conditions even approaching those on the Tube your operation would be shut down. Ditto commuter suburban trains around London. A single delayed train results in chaos, and why does it take 45 minutes to get from A to B by train when the same journey by car takes less than 10? Our transport network is nothing more than a sick joke.
Karl Peters, UK

I feel a need to say that the London Underground is a brilliant, well run and quite cheap transport service. I travel to London twice a year and are always surprised how well the service is. Most stations have been done up the last ten years, cctv makes the underground much safer to travel in. They are slowly introducing new trains and I rarely have to wait long for a train. Obviously it's an old train system but it works well. Be proud of it! I am!
Kenneth Oliver, Denmark

It is, with the possible exception of Ireland. Investment is surely the key to improvements, so long as this is co-ordinated into planned and truly integrated new transport infrastructure. The high population density of the UK, however (59 million giving a density of 238 sq./km) inherently causes potential congestion problems, especially for a nation that is the world's 4th largest economy and simultaneously starved of investment is sustainable public transport year after year.
John, Reading, UK

I live in a village of about 3000-4000 people, ten miles from the nearest town and five miles from the nearest cash-point. It is a area of high unemployment, so many people rely on the bus service as they do not have cars. Up until two years ago two bus companies operated in this area, until a well known bus company lowered their prices so much that it drove the other local company out of business.

In the space of a year since then, the number of buses operated has halved (not including the company that went out of business) and the prices have tripled. It is companies like this that degrade the service by driving out the competition.
FN, UK

Britain has the highest density of cars per square km of any country in the world (barring the city state of Singapore). One car for every 1.3 sq km of land. When you take into account the hugely under populated areas within the northern parts of the mainland this density in the cities and southern part of the country must shoot through the roof. Every time someone finds themselves "having" to buy a car to make up for the deficiencies of the existing transport system the problem gets exponentially worse. We end up paying about £3500 per year up front to subsidise the status quo.

Having recently done the same, following a successful 6 years of car free living, but finally being defeated by nippers and their clutter. It annoys me to have to pay to own a car when I could achieve my transport needs with public transport and car rental, IF the government had the courage to charge a decent level of tax to provide this. Instead we all pay more to achieve our aims individually because our government lacks the courage to tax overtly and argue the case with us.
Eoin, UK

We need higher taxes now! All these European countries have better transport networks (Health systems, standards of living etc) because they pay for it! Everybody always complained about BR, but that's because it never had enough investment. Don't forget that SNCF is the French equivalent of what was BR, and you don't see all the French people complaining about poor a transport infrastructure. It seems an incredibly obvious point, but one that the British electorate seems to forget time and time again, with tax rises continuing to be a taboo word in British politics!
Peter, UK

A simple journey for you all to ponder, completed in every way possible by myself at some point in the last year - Pontypridd to Cardiff Bay, a journey of 17 miles approx.

By car - at worst 45 mins to 1 hour at peak rush hour. £20 per week for 10 journeys (there and back, AND there's petrol left over!)

By bus - 3 hours (includes hanging round waiting!) - cost £47 a week (maybe a bit more now!)

By train - 1.5-2 hours - cost £60 a week (if they turn up! - a lot of the time, buses are used!)

I think I'll stick to the car thanks very much! Even with the ever growing threat of having to pay for parking, it'll still be cheaper!
Paul, Wales


In return for the good service I get in Belgium I pay a top rate of tax close to 60%

Caroline, Belgium
I now live in Belgium and every time I come home to the UK to visit my parents, I am shocked at the prices of the trains, the poor state of the carriages and above all, why should a return ticket be approx the same price as a single? That makes no sense! In return for the good service I get in Belgium however, I pay a top rate of tax close to 60%. I think British people need to decide whether they want better public services or lower taxes, as low taxes in the UK mean that public services (not only the transport services) are appalling.
Caroline, Belgium

Although the British system is under funded and leaves a lot to be desired, don't think that the grass is always greener! Here in Paris travel by public transport is dogged by strikes which occur with a frequency I have never known elsewhere. Yes, the transport infrastructure may be better here, but that doesn't mean a more efficient service for travellers...
Sarah, France


The rail service in my region was excellent

Emily Burton, Australia
Sorry to be the lone voice of dissent here! Until recently, I enjoyed the regular service of TWM buses, on time (or close enough) in any weather condition. True, the bus did occasionally break down, and true, one sadistic driver did choose not to pick up groups of girls in the rain (problem solved: several complaints saw him sacked), but all in all, a good service. The new gas powered buses were spacious, comfortable and even clean. The rail service in my region was excellent: generally on time, clean, comfortable, reliable, and importantly, safe. I've been on trains elsewhere in the world where I have genuinely feared for my safety, regretted travelling, and stepped from the train grateful to have made the journey without incident.

I'm sure that many commuters using public transport have suffered bad experiences, but then, how often does a smooth, punctual bus service stick in your memory? And, for the record, the transport operators don't put the chewing gum there, it's the travelling public...
Emily Burton, Australia


Our main problems are inter-city trains and commuter trains

Nathan Trace, Suffolk, UK
The London Underground is not the worst in Europe. It's actually the most efficient, user-friendly, expansive city transport system in Europe. No other city system covers an area as large as London/ Outer London, or with as many trains or stations. Our main problems are inter-city trains and commuter trains - and that's a problem with investment and regional employment bias.
Nathan Trace, Suffolk, UK

Time and again I see new traffic developments on my journey to work, that give very marginal benefit to a few dozen pedestrians or bus passengers but at the expense of creating major delays for literally thousands of motorists. There appears to be no concept of bringing the greatest benefit to the greatest number in transport planning - just a desire to attack car users. A transport policy should be about making journeys easier not attacking people who very often have no choice at all in how they get to work.
Will Howell, Norfolk UK


I've travelled to busy cities in Germany, France and Italy and never experienced the kind of delays that we have here - even when there were accidents.

Christine, UK
I wouldn't really call this news... We've just had confirmation of what most of us already knew. I've travelled to busy cities in Germany, France and Italy in the middle of rush hour and never experienced the kind of delays that we have here every day even when there were accidents. I care about the environment and I don't think that building more roads and widening existing roads will have the negative effect some people seem to think. People will continue to use their cars no matter what (a look at UK petrol prices confirms that) so why not make sure that we have roads that can take people from A to B relatively quickly without the need to sit in long queues and spew out exhaust fumes for twice or three times as long as needed.
Christine, UK

If the UK has the worst system in Europe, at least it has a system. The US, for all it's wealth, is so poorly served with public transport it's laughable (if you're not crying about it). The UK may need to fix it's system, but the US must build one.
Keith Hagerman, USA

I am a car driver because I have no alternative, however my biggest complaint is with the railways. I am now unable to go to London for a day, the drive is too long, and I don¿t think I would be able to park. I used to go to art exhibitions, and other cultural events as you know these things all take place in London. I now feel that the capitol is inaccessible, to those of us that live up north.
Pauline Katiff.

There is obviously a big difference of views between people who have to rely on our transport system everyday for commuting, and those who just use it from time to time for pleasure, such as tourists. Yes, if you come from a country with hardly any public transport it might seem marvellous that you can get somewhere without a car. But if you compare like with like, ie the UK with the rest of western Europe, we are way behind in terms of efficiency, cost, reliability, investment, and innovation. Just because we are better off than some, doesn't mean we don't have a serious problem.
Graeme, UK


The government should be looking not only at policies related to transport, but ones that could reduce the amount of commuting

Richard, UK
The trouble with trying to address the British 'transport' problem is that large parts of the problem aren't transport related at all - they are about lifestyle (the British obsession with a house and garden), social trends (towards living further from work) and business practice (not allowing significant numbers of staff to work from home). This is an area which really needs 'joined up thinking'. The government should be looking not only at policies related to transport, but ones that could reduce the amount of commuting that goes on. A sliding scale tax incentive for medium and large companies to have a proportion of their staff working from home would be a good start.
Richard, UK

When will all the politicians realise that the majority of congestion on Britain's roads is caused by lorries. Wise up, get freight back on railways - once the pride of a nation, now just a laughing stock.
Paul Furness, England


We have the highest population per square mile of any other European country

Pete, UK
It's not just because public transport is a shambles that travel in the UK is so bad, but we have the highest population per square mile of any other European country. In a nutshell we are over-populated and growing. There is no way out of this, we are on a non-stop self-destruct course as far as travelling/commuting is concerned
Pete, UK

Britain at least HAS a public transport system. There is room for improvement, but don't forget that it is the oldest system in the world. The first ever train ran from Stockton to Darlington in 1825 and London was the first-ever city to have a subway, with the opening of the Metropolitan Line in 1863. Given that Britain was the first country to have public transport, mistakes were made in its development, which other countries learned from, but Britain is stuck with its old infrastructure. It can't simply shut down its entire railway system for one massive overhaul, or the country would grind to a halt. The next best option is to repair the system in increments and in phases.
Jeff, USA

I was a bus driver for many years in the Greater Manchester area, people who have never done this job, do not understand the situation. Many drivers are robbed and attacked, plus missiles thrown at buses. There is only limited control over passengers, who wish to incite trouble. The drivers are on their own. The worst mistake companies made where to remove guards. I myself originally used to love my job, but under no circumstances would I drive a bus today.
Pat, England

Okay, so the British transport system isn't perfect (years of Tory neglect of public transport probably being the main culprit), but compared to California it's great. Here in the Bay Area we have to put up with cluttered freeways and limited bus and rail services which become practically non-existent in the suburbs (though this is admittedly better than most of the States) Britain has the infrastructure, and with government investment (after all the rail privatisation fiasco shows this can't be trusted to private business) can relatively quickly get one of the best transport systems in the world
R. Smith, UK in USA

What I can't understand is why the Government bothered to commission a report into the state of British transport when we all know how bad it is! Each day I travel from the South Coast to London on 40 year old rolling stock - you can hardly expect it to be fast, efficient and comfortable. And as for "paying high taxes like the Europeans do", never have a British government had so much money from taxation, and as with health and education, I have to wonder just what are they doing with it all?
Gavin, UK

It was only when I left the UK to live in another country, experiencing the joys of its transport system as part of my daily life, that I realised what a complete and utter embarrassment the British transport system really is. Very expensive, extremely unreliable and simply a waste of space. Is it any wonder why the roads are congested? Sometimes, we Brits get so insular about our island and we think that only we know best. Well, if our European neighbours countries can manage to run a decent transport system with apparent ease, isn't it about time we woke up and made some fundamental changes?
Peter Sandbach, Switzerland

After living and working in London for 4 years I moved to Hong Kong. I've been here nearly 2 years and still marvel at the public transport. Buses, trams and tubes run on time, are clean and, apart from the trams, are air-conditioned. The system works so well. Could someone from the Government take note? I am loathe to return to the hellish commuting I put up with while living in South London.
Nicole, Hong Kong

Having just returned from yet another miserable school break trip, I can assure you the British system is considerably more organized and effective. This is the eighth time in a little over a year I've taken Amtrak (national rail company) from Boston to New Jersey (scheduled to be about 5 hrs), and I have yet to arrive on time - twice I've even had to ride the next day because the trains were so late.

In comparison, when I went on a choir trip to England two years ago, we managed to get 45 people (about a third between the ages of 9 and 14) quickly and rapidly through the London tubes, as well as on the regular rail system to Bath and other stops. Certainly more work could be done on public transport systems, but I know that a number of people over here (who have also been to England) envy the simplicity, logic and forethought so absent on America's rails. Kudos to those pushing for more mass transit and bike riding - more often than not, cars just make the place untidy, pollute a lot and make travel hazardous for those who want to walk or ride.
Penny, USA (ex-UK)


I think Britain has one of the best transport systems in the world

Gurmail Gill, USA
I frequently visit Britain and the rest of Europe. I think Britain has one of the best transport systems in the world. Of course there is always room for improvement but even a small tube or coach station in the UK can put big airports to shame elsewhere in the world. You can connect so well from air to sea to train networks. The roads are only congested because of the density of population.
Gurmail Gill, USA

Absolutely no comparison. I lived in Germany and have travelled extensively throughout Europe. The transport infrastructure in the UK is a shambles. It is dirty, unreliable, uncomfortable and an absolute disgrace to the country.
Steve, UK

The answer is simply: quit spending billions on over-ambitious futuristic train and tube stations and just get those trains running on time. That's all we ask.
Michael, UK

I don't use public transport. It doesn't work for me. I live about two miles from work so the commute is short and when I go away for the weekend I leave at 6am and there is no traffic. I find the road infrastructure to be fine at these times. Of course if you wish to work in a different town to the one you live, expect inconvenience when getting to work.
Chris Cowdery, UK


Why beat yourselves up over Europe, just compare things with the rest of the world

Chris Brown, Canada
Let's be fair and remember the density of the population in the UK. Whenever I come home I am impressed how well the road system works, come to Toronto and see the poor driving habits and discipline of the average driver. We have a huge country with a small population so unless you are in an urban area the road system is terrible. As for trains for passengers they hardly exist here but when I am home I see single railcar units running down tracks to service the smallest of communities. Why beat yourselves up over Europe, just compare things with the rest of the world. Do you want to pay the high taxes those other Euros do?
Chris Brown, Canada

The transport system in Scotland is absolutely atrocious. Where I live the first bus in the morning starts at 8:00am and the last bus back is at 5:00pm, if they run at all; no wonder so many people use cars! This winter road gritting has been privatised so the number of gritting trucks has been reduced - parents are already threatening to keep their children away from school because the roads are being gritted AFTER the school bus leaves. Transport (buses, rail and roads) should be in public hands as the private sector have shown themselves to be useless at running public services time and time again.
Fergie Meek, Scotland

I commuted to London for a year from Epsom in Surrey, all through the disruptions after Hatfield. Every day was the same story of run down stations, over crowded trains, crawling along stretches of unsafe track and unpredictable delays and cancellations. But the worst thing was not knowing how safe you were, whether the train beside you was going to run into you or if there was another commuter train rushing towards yours on the same track - it was worse than fear of flying!

It wasn't worth working in London, the hassle, headache and stress of commuting. I left the country and I'm glad I don't have to suffer British transport. And the only solution ever offered by government? Investment, chuck more money at it and hope some of it helps. Yeah, right, because that really worked with BR & Railtrack didn't it. British transport, you're welcome to it.
Polite Elliot, Norway


Ireland would be the clear winner of the 'worst transport system in Europe' award

Peter Mork, Ireland
I am not sure whether the British government is aware of the fact that Ireland, too is part of Europe. As a matter of fact, Ireland would be the clear winner of the 'worst transport system in Europe' award, should such things exist. I urge the British Government officials to pay a short visit to Dublin and discover this great city: the traffic jams, the inadequate roads, the appalling driving standards and worst of all, the desperate, hopeless, tragic, revolting state of public transport - which, unlike that of London, does not suffer from two generations of neglect, but has been bog-standard ever since.
Peter Mork, Ireland

I moved from London to the most congested part of Germany (Essen, middle of the Ruhrgebiet) just over a year ago. The best thing about being here? Hardly any traffic jams. Motorways with no speed limits (and the majority of people still drive more slowly than in Britain - there is no limit to "aim for"), wider roads and low speed limits in residential areas (many areas have a 30kmph limit) which means you feel safe on foot and get around fast in the car. Plus public transport here works well if I ever want to use it (seldom, but it can happen...). What's wrong with the British system? The assumption that everyone will always drive if roads are good. That's just not true... as long as there is a decent alternative. So there's no excuse not to build good roads, but work on the other systems too.
Edward Clayton, Germany

I am sick and tired of reading and hearing about yet another aspect that makes up the scandal that is the United Kingdom. Despite all these unacceptable failings, the 'British public' seems to accept it. I would say that nothing short of a total overhaul and revolt is necessary in protest.
Nilesh Patel, UK


The railway is considered as an orange to squeeze in this country and not a strategic service of national importance

Lorenzo Martinelli, UK
The objectively awful transport system in the UK can be explained by the over-reliance on road transport and an arguably criminal lack of foresight and care for railways. If we look at countries like Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, where in spite of the geographical obstacles to rail, we see a determined effort to care and foster a strategic treasure such as a working railway system. As long as the railway is considered as an orange to squeeze in this country and not a strategic service of national importance (not unlike the NHS or the Army) for the benefit of entire country, and we see intelligent investments in new rail and services, we will continue to see congested roads, and transport services which are easily bettered by several developing countries.
Lorenzo Martinelli, UK


I am forced to tolerate conditions that we would never allow cattle to travel by

Leon Reilly, London, England
This comes as no surprise at all. I work eight miles from my office, yet some mornings it can take as much as an hour and a half to get to work! I NEVER get a seat on the tube, and am forced to tolerate conditions that we would never allow cattle to travel by. Most days I'm tense and stressed before I even start work! I'm also charged £30 a week for this fiasco!!
Leon Reilly, London, England

I worked from home, as a consultant, for several years. Eventually I had to move my practice back into London because otherwise it was difficult to develop professionally. The price, though, is 2-3 hours per day commuting, on crowded, unreliable, underground trains - and I live only 10 miles from central London! Driving into the centre is no quicker, and even more expensive.
Robert Newey, UK

Of course the UK has the worst transport problem in Europe. We under invest in public transport and insist on trying to cram as much of our population and jobs into London and the South East as possible! We already have one of the mostly densely populated countries in the western world without trying to put 30-40% of our population into 10-20% of our land. Even massive investment in public transport infrastructure can't overcome the reality that the South East is reaching its population capacity and the ability of public transport and roads to cope with it! Companies need to be encouraged to create jobs outside of London and the South East. We need to integrate work and home spaces more closely, negating the requirement for long commutes. Other countries manage to spread the load of their populations more evenly why can't/won't we? Or am I simply being too Utopian?
Martin, UK


Hopefully I will never have to return to the UK with its miserable, fourth world transport infrastructure

Tony Sheerstone, Netherlands
Yes it certainly does. I now live in Holland where we have excellent public transport. I simply have no need of a car. Like millions of others I spent years sitting in traffic jams trying to get to and from work in the UK. Thank God I now work in Holland and hopefully will never have to return to the UK with its miserable fourth world transport infrastructure
Tony Sheerstone, Netherlands

It is not possible to have a worse transport infrastructure than here in the Emerald Isle.
Mark, Ireland

I cycle 20 mins to my station, catch the train to London (about 50 mins), and then use the underground (25 mins) to get to work. Journey times have varied by about 1% for my bike, 100%+ on the train and 50%+ on the tube. It's getting worse. I'd use my bike in London but can't take it on the train. By the way, I have two cars and a motorbike but don't use them for going to the station because I am trying to do my bit. From the number of people I see on bikes it's a pity that few others are.
Dave, UK


London traffic is nothing compared to the misery of Milan or Rome traffic jams

James, Italy
Transport in the UK is very poor indeed however it's not all as bad as is stated. As frustrating as London traffic can be, it is nothing compared to the misery of Milan or Rome traffic jams. Trains in Italy are however very cheap and mostly reliable in stark contrast to the UK.
James, Italy

I work for a small business and increasingly need to travel to meet and pitch to clients. Extortionate rail tickets during commuter hours are greatly increasingly my "cost of sales" and reducing my profits - but if I got a company car I would be stung on tax!
Helen, England

I would like to know why, if you buy a return ticket on a bus, you cannot use the return on another day? And in some areas of Britain, why you cannot even get a return before 9am in the morning? It's a rip-off.
John Haime, Scotland


I endure a gruelling trial-by-fire to get to work by train every morning

Dan Glegg, UK
As a dedicated non-driver, I endure a gruelling trial-by-fire in order to get to work by train every morning - new operators, it seems, make no difference except a new paint job on the exterior of the train, whilst the interiors are left to rot. The south east, particularly, suffers from what must be the most horribly out-moded and downright unpleasant rail system I have ever seen.

I don't mind delays so much, but when the station is freezing cold, the staff are not so much rude as uninformed, and the train, when it does turn up, smells faintly of urine and some other unidentifiable vegetable products, it's probably time to have another look at the situation. [rant ends]
Dan Glegg, UK

In response to Michelle Rossignol's comments, I agree that France's rail network is much more efficient than the UK in terms of investment however it is worth pointing out that serious disruption occurs frequently due to strike action by the (state employed) SNCF members, sometimes with only a few hours warning. Sadly, this has come to be an accepted feature of French life. As for the French being good drivers, I suggest she has a look at the European road death statistics where in 1999 there were 8487 deaths in France compared to 3564 in the UK. If this is the kind of civilisation that she is referring to, then I'll say "Non merci".
Wendy, UK

Here in France, I use the new, efficient, electric trams whenever I can, or the TGV (world's fastest passenger train) if I'm going further a field. The UK mindset is to mock anything successful, but they could take a few lessons from other countries. Jeremy from England is absolutely right - enforce good driving. I know UK-ers mock French driving, but the French are much more tolerant drivers than Brits - they let other cars into gaps, they don't hog the middle lane on motorways, and I have NEVER felt that someone wants to kill me because I'm driving too slowly. Every city in the world has traffic problems, but there are ways of solving them - if there's a will. So come on, Britain, catch up with other civilised countries. The rest of the world is in the 21st century, not the 19th with Victoria!
Michelle Rossignol, France


Politicians and engineers alone can not solve this problem

Mark Thornton, UK
The public must accept that it is not enough for someone else to use public transport instead of the car. We must ALL use our cars less. No conceivable road building program can satisfy demand in the congested areas of this country. Politicians and engineers alone can not solve this problem.
Mark Thornton, UK

If the taxation at the pump was invested into our travel infrastructure as it should be, we would have the finest travel infrastructure bar none in the world. Instead, we pay the most for the least.
C Peters, UK

"I'm confident that over the next period, we will see a real improvement in our transport system."
Lets face it, it can't get much worse...
Erin Freeman, England

I was forced to use public transport for a couple of months, the buses were terrible, I got off the bus stinking of exhaust fumes or picking the chewing gum of my backside! The chosen routes are also a joke. For instance, I had a journey of 13 miles which takes half an hour by bus but by car it takes 15 minutes. Why pay more for a poorer service... Do they think we are stupid? - I go by car now.
Dale Wilson, United Kingdom


We need to take some drastic measures to rectify this major stumbling block in Britain to stay competitive with our European counterparts

Royston Wilson, USA
I think rail and bus fares in the UK are disgustingly expensive while provide a very poor service. It's no wonder 87% of all journeys are made by car; it's by far the least expensive! Imagine a trip for two between Manchester and London. By rail it would cost £175 round trip. By bus it would cost £90. The petrol cost for travelling car is about £30 and at most times of the day is by far the fastest. We need to take some drastic measures to rectify this major stumbling block in Britain to stay competitive with our European counterparts.
Royston Wilson, UK/living in the US

The transport system, chiefly rail, is quite unbelievably dire. The winter has not yet begun and the trains are in chaos. Part of the blame must be laid at the door of the Railtrack disaster. So many rail employees had money invested, it's no wonder their morale is low. In the mean time, we cope with delay after delay...
JWL, UK

On a recent visit to London I was amazed at the high price of train travel. Two observations:
1) I suspect that any city the size of London will have transport problems - you simply have too many people living in too small an area.
2) As long as every Englishman wants his own house and garden, instead of living in higher density apartments, you will have longer commutes and more congested roads.
Paul Barber, Canada

Does Britain have the worst public transport in Europe? YES! Does Britain have the worst public transport in the world? YES!
Will Hawkes, Taiwan

It's not just the worst in Europe, but trails most of the rest of the world too. I recently travelled a lot in Malaysia, where gleaming airports, efficient commuter trains, and beautifully maintained French-style highways all serve to put us to shame.
Alastair Stevens, UK


All in all - it just makes me want to stay at home!

James, UK
Our transport system (Roads, Rail, Bus) are certainly one of the worst in the modern world. I do not travel by train as it is often overcrowded, expensive and on some regions very old. I do not travel on the bus as the routes do not coincide with my journey unless I change a significant number of times. So I am left with the car... high petrol prices, congestion, bad road surfaces. We pay some of the highest taxes, both IR, Local and vehicle. I would not object to toll fees for good roads and driving conditions (as in France) but the speed limit would also need to be increased. In all.. It just makes me want to stay at home!
James, UK

No wander the UK has one of the worst public transports systems in Europe. Far too much time is spent dithering over the future of transport, and not enough action is being taken. Just take a look at Terminal 5 at Heathrow - it took 8 long years for that to get the go ahead. If the public transport in the UK is to improve, decisive and appropriate action has to be taken at a much earlier stage.
Adam, UK

Having lived in Budapest (1992), Paris (1993-7) and London (1997-2000) I can state that London is by far the worst as far a public transport goes. During that time I have travelled in Europe quite extensively, and London gets the lowest score in every possible aspect - price, frequency, reliability, cleanliness. Privatisation a good idea? I don't think so. The total destruction of what used to be one of the best transport infrastructures in the world is the result of bad management, lack of investment and user complacency. Wake up you Brits and do something about it!
Moshe Tzalel, USA


We should be ashamed as a nation at the state of our transport infrastructure compared to our the rest of Europe

Dave Whyte, UK
The Commission of Integrated Transport have discovered what those of us who have to use these "services" have known for ages. We should be ashamed as a nation at the state of our transport infrastructure compared to our the rest of Europe. It will only improve when the system is run as a service to those who use it and not as a means of making money to pay shareholders dividends. The first duty of a plc is always to its shareholders and this is incompatible with providing a public service.
Dave Whyte, UK

I put the whole blame on deregulation act of 1986. We need an integrated policy for public transport, and to put it all back into public ownership
Robin Garston, United Kingdom

It is not a simple picture, the UK has some of the best road infrastructure in the world. The issue of congestion is extremely complicated though, with no solution on the cards, we just clearly have more traffic than the continent. When it comes to trains though...
Edward Haworth, UK

The British transport system puts Britain firmly in a third-world category. I lived in France for a number of years - there the roads are free-flowing, trains on time, and the Paris Métro frequent. Yes, taxes are higher there - but then the French standard of living is higher than ours too. It's time this country acted like a modern State instead of trying to fake it and failing dismally!
Simon, England


The transport system in the UK is the most run-down, worn-out I have experienced in Europe

Ian Lowe, Scotland
The transport System in the UK is the most run-down, worn-out I have experienced in Europe, However, the real tragedy is that Eco-freaks in the Councils of our cities are being allowed to make matters even worse for motorists by imposing bus gates, narrowing main roads, or altering one-way schemes, whilst the safe and reliable train system is still no-where to be seen.
Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK

Overall, the countries that have better road systems are not as densely populated as the UK.
As for the commuting time it depends on where you live and how far from the office.
Caron, England

If the railways and trains were not in such diabolical shape, much more people would travel by train and therefore ease congestion on the roads, that's one way of improving things!
Mark R, UK

Yes it does. Our transport is dire. The reason is simple: lack of Government willingness to do anything about small problems that accumulate to big effects.
Roads could be improved at minimal cost by enforcing better driving - given the level of congestion, lazy, selfish drivers should get short shrift. Road/lane hogs should be fined like the idiots doing 100mph - they cause the delay and some of the consequent speeding. Trucks should be banned at peak times like in Italy, and confined to the left lane like Germany. All vehicles should have to pull over into lay-bys to let faster traffic past - like in New Zealand. Ban slow/underpowered traffic (caravans!) at peak times, too.
The biggest problem with the railways is their inability to cope when one train is late. The lack of spare stock and spare drivers simply means that all subsequent services worked by that train and driver are late, or are sent out with half the seats.
Jeremy, England

See also:

25 Nov 01 | UK Politics
British transport 'worst in Europe'
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