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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 10:43 GMT
What can be done about Britain's railways?
Rail travellers are in line for fare increases of up to 10% in the New Year.

The price hikes have emerged as the Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, has admitted the UK's railways are worse than when Labour came to power in 1997.

It has been a turbulent year for the rail industry, culminating in the decision to put Railtrack into administration.

Mr Byers has said this is a step towards improving punctuality, safety and comfort on the railways in time for the next general election.

But critics have called it re-nationalisation thorugh the back door and are predicting even more chaos for the future.

Are the fare increases justified? Will the railways improve after the government's action over Railtrack? What can be done about Britain's railways?

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

Your reaction

All the options for the railways are going to cost money and require the wholehearted support of all the stakeholders. It seems particularly perverse of Mr Byers therefore that he should alienate most of those groups at the outset by cheating them out of the value of their shares.
Bob Thompson, UK

Those running the "service" never use it

Julia B, UK
Until every rail manager and, more importantly, politician is obliged to travel on public transport, standard class, rush hour, Monday to Friday every week, nothing will improve. But put that in place and I bet improvements would swiftly follow! The trouble is that those running the "service" never use it. They should be forced to!
Julia B, UK

The main problem, in addition to long term under investment, is weak management resulting from the fragmentation caused by privatisation. The answer - as indicated by Gavin Strang, former Transport Minister, (BBC Radio 4 World at One, 31-12-01) - is to return the railways to public control with a tighter, more hierarchical system which integrates track and trains. Government opposition to this appears to stem from the reluctance to spend the additional sum required. It is a question of priorities. If the Government is really serious about improving the appalling state of the railways in Britain it needs to fundamentally reorganise the system and find the necessary finance for this.
David Willey, Devon, UK

Having endured many hellish journeys on antiquated under-funded rail networks whilst working in London I have come up with the perfect solution - concrete over the tracks to provide a much needed improvement to our road network!
Neil, UK

I have lived in Poland and am now living in Finland. In both countries the rail services are excellent. They run on time almost to the minute! Can someone visit these places to pick up a few tips?
Pauline, Finland

A hundred years ago the British railway was the envy of the world. It hasn't improved much in that time. I doubt if the Government want us to stop using our cars. The loss in tax revenue from petrol alone would leave a huge hole in the Treasury. The best way to get public transport used in this country would be to make it a free service paid for by taxation like the NHS, Police, Fire and roads.
Simon, England

How about passing a law compelling the Secretary of State for Transport and the Directors of all rail-related companies to use rail travel on a daily basis for their own personal commuting? I bet the system would very rapidly come up to scratch if the people in charge had to use it themselves.
David Hazel, UK

Our rail service is not under-funded. It is the most expensive per track mile in the World

John Atkins, England
Our rail service is not under-funded. It is the most expensive per track mile in the World, even more than Japan. Can somebody tell me where the cash is going? Certainly not into the safety, punctuality or cleanliness of our trains.
John Atkins, England

The current railway system is the result of 30 years of under investment. To expect this to be put right in under 5 years of private ownership is ridiculous, even with a perfect situation and unlimited money. The British railway (and public transport system as a whole) needs a revamp - the companies need to work together, and work for each other. The prices need to be lower, the service faster, better and cleaner. Yes, this will require subsidisation - transport is the backbone of an efficient economy.
Graham, UK

The solution is simple: re-nationalisation! Bring back BR as was. Also, get Gordon Brown to spend the sum total of his war chest of providing this country with the finest railway in Europe. We might also think about employing all these hoardes of economic migrants coming into the country to rebuilt it for us.
William van Zwanenberg, United Kingdom

Having lived in an East European country and experienced a vast and cheap rail network, Britain has much to learn

TJ, England
Having lived in an East European country and experienced a vast and cheap rail network, Britain has much to learn. Solutions? For a start, a very simple one would be to make travelling by rail much cheaper than travelling say by car. Also, have only two types of ticket: single and return instead of the logic to be found in a Franz Kafka nightmare; single being 50% the cost of a return, not 95% as it is now. Also, we could start 'removing' roads and replacing by new rail/tram links.
TJ, England

I recently travelled first class between Evesham and Paddington. The three-carriage train had no heating, was packed to danger level and I couldn't get a coffee until I nearly reached London. The return trip was little better. Next time I'll use the car. I stopped using the service between Harrogate and Leeds several years ago because I was late for work so often.
Liz Carnell, UK

The only solution is to bring the whole network back into the public sector. The idea of PUBLIC transport being run to benefit shareholders is simply ludicrous. I know British Rail wasn't great, but at least a publicly owned company could then justify have billions of public money invested, rather than giving it away millions to shareholders.
Alex White, UK

Our management to date has been woefully inadequate

Ramana, UK
Britain's railways/underground, road network, hospitals and just about everything else is allegedly under-funded, which clearly must mean putting up taxes. But will this necessarily mean an improvement in public services. I think not. We've just appointed a Swede to run our football team because he was the best around. Time for the railways to follow suite and appoint the Japanese or the French to run our railways. Our management to date has been woefully inadequate and it's time they went (with a golden handshake at the taxpayers' expense of course - after all they deserve it).
Ramana, UK

I've been using the trains in Germany lately. This has led to me considering the inconsiderable. Please, please sell the rail system lock, stock and barrel to German rail companies. The service there is everything ours isn't - clean, punctual, fast, cheap, and comfortable.
James Hayward, UK

There used to be a BBC TV programme called Troubleshooter, which took former ICI chairman Sir John Harvey Jones to troubled organisations in order that he could come up with solutions to their problems. Maybe the BBC needs to call him back to do a special series on public transport in the UK.
Nigel Burton, Australia (ex UK)

I have used rail services all over the world and I can honestly say that the rail service in Britain is the worse as well as among the most expensive. The trains are more often late than not. The scheduling system used by the rail service doesn't even have the rudimentary flexibility required to adjust train size to current passenger loads. The people within the rail service are rude and unhelpful to passengers. I think the lot of them (higher managers down to rail staff) should be fired and replaced by people willing to serve customers properly.
Phil, California, US

I'm certainly going to look at alternative travel arrangements

Mark, UK
This is taking the mickey... Already it costs me just under 10 a weekend to spend time with my girlfriend who lives 40 minutes away. Half the time this journey ends up at over an hour because of replacement buses, failure of rolling stock and general delay. Then they hike the price and still expect people to go back to using the rail service. I'm certainly going to look at alternative travel arrangements.
Mark, UK

Midland Mainline prices year on year have increased more than 10%. A first premier return from Derby to London in May last year cost 116. It will now cost 143. That's an increase of over 23%. For one, I'll be voting with my feet and withdrawing our business account with Midland Mainline.
Robert Parnha, UK

Perhaps, the answer is to build more freeways, lower petrol taxes and reduce car registration costs. The railways may then have to offer service and value for money. I could probably fly to Singapore for less than a inter-city train trip within Britain - unreal.
Tom, Australia

The same should happen to the railways as should happen to health, education and even the flaming Wembley Stadium. The politicians should stay out of the way and let the professionals get on with it. Then we would all be a lot better off.
Colin Mackay, UK

The rail network needs a massive investment


The rail network needs a massive investment. This should come from rail users and from the general public through taxation. I wish people would stop moaning and accept that they cannot get something for nothing.

The best thing to do would be to remove the politicians and bureaucrats. The SRA employs 500 people, yet they can't produce a strategic plan in two years. Despite the railways being safer now than they ever have been, the government promises new technology costing billions (paid for by the travelling public of course) which wouldn't actually have saved any lives in the last 30 years, but would look good in a manifesto. Endless contradictory targets get set so that the Treasury can extract money - in the last quarter Railtrack reduced delays by 10% but still got fined; what an incentive! The administrators are bleeding the system dry with their fees. And what good staff there are, are leaving in droves partly thanks to the abuse heaped on them by politicians of all colours. They should get their interfering fingers out and let decisions be made by the technical experts - but that's clearly too much to ask.
Julian Hayward, UK

Chucking different combinations of managers and directors together will not improve the state of the railways. It's either start afresh or get the physical manpower to actually upgrade them. Plus, it's not just a case of blaming the government, if individuals want a better railway, then they should get involved whether it's working on them part-time or attending meetings. The effort in must be higher. How far must we go to fix the railways? How far are we prepared to go to fix the railways?
Daren, UK

The entire rail network (including the trains!) should be brought back into public ownership, and democratically run by a management board elected by rail workers and travellers.
Ben Drake , York, UK

The railways in Britain are chronically underfunded - that is the root of the problem and also the fact that the rail operating companies are driven by profit first and passengers second. Until governments have the will to invest, little will change. As the nation that gave the world the railway system, we now are reaping what we haven't sowed - failure after failure. It's time to invest so we can be best !!
Iain, UK

How can Railtrack justify a fare increase?

Chris Gower, Liverpool, England
Our railway system is truly PATHETIC. I pay almost 3000 per year on my travel ticket and since Hatfield my train is taking 20-30 minutes longer than it should. It's a disgrace. How can Railtrack justify a fare increase? Is this because of the greedy shareholders that put profit and large salaries before safety? I find it utterly abysmal.
Chris Gower, Liverpool, England

Unless I can help it I avoid trains (and public transport) every time I come back to the UK. Here in Switzerland, you know they'll arrive on time. You know that you'll get a seat. You know that you will arrive at your destination without feeling like you've had every bone in your body rattled, shaken and stirred. There are never the 'wrong sorts of leaves on the line'. And most of all you know that it's value for money... and then people say that Switzerland is expensive! Well it's cheaper than the UK. Unless the UK get their act together re: public transport I will carry on avoiding it like the plague.
Fiona, Switzerland (ex-UK)

For two days in a row, a "fatality" has caused services to be suspended for a couple of hours on the Kings Cross lines to the North East. And yet, a few months ago, I spotted four or five children walking on the tracks in South London. They made provocative signs to passengers who looked at them. I got off the train and went to the desk. I told them about the kids, but they did not seem to be interested at all. Why? Is it because of the industry being split up in a myriad of companies who do not care about what happens to the other?

The system must be simplified for the benefit of rail workers and passengers. Railtrack should be made much more accountable, whether or not it remains in private hands. Ticket prices, and that include commuters and long distances, should be reduced to their levels in countries like France. Subsidies should be increased but should not result in artificial profits such as the ones published by Railtrack recently. Major projects such as Channel Tunnel Rail Link phase 2, Thameslink 2000, the West Coast modernisation or the Welwyn viaduct extension should be publicly funded and as fast as possible.

Finally, the Conservatives should stop trumpeting the successes of privatisation. I use the train not to cause Railtrack or WAGN to gloat about their profits. I use it because I have to.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Railtrack was just the final straw in a long decline

Terry Amis, UK
The railways, as with all forms of public transport, have suffered years of neglect at the hands of successive governments. Railtrack was just the final straw in a long decline. There needs to be massive investment but there won't be. The government will try and get the money out of private business. Private business will want to make money and people will continue to die. This government couldn't care less about any of us. All they worry about is the next election and holding on to power.
Terry Amis, UK

As I don't use the rail network and find myself as an unfortunate person to be a Railtrack shareholder I feel the increase is justified to make the business more profitable and to increase safety measures. Railtrack have had a torrid time this year but seeing an increase in profits will also mean an increase in confidence. Everyone is happy.
Mark Blackburn, London, England

Mark Blackburn, Shouldn't our already expensive fares guaranteee our saftey? You are looking at this from a business perspective. Get real matey, lives come first not profit. Tell the families from the Hatfield disaster that 'everyone is happy.' And why do you think Railtrack have been having a 'torrid' time? Put it this way, when I go on public transport I am paying for a service that I am expecting to be satisfied with (100%), just like buying beer from a pub. The pub saying thanks for the 2.00 for the pint but we've ran out of beer but we'll keep your 2.00 even though you are only getting half a pint!! When our trains (service) runs late, we are still expected to pay 100% of the cost even though we are not getting 100% of what we've paid for. We are paying full price for a we are not getting. The way you are talking, how can safety ever be a priority when profit is involved? Shouldn't the question be 'Should we get compensation when a train runs late?' I thought the whole situation would have demonstrated to you that whenever 'people' (if you can can call them that) have the opportunity to make a quick buck, they will take it regardless.
Craig, Scotland

When a company proudly announces profits in the hundred of millions while quietly smirking over public fund being given to it in their billions, it is time to question the motives and honesty of that companies board of directors. Railtrack should not have been allowed to declare a dividend for shareholders until it was self financing - even ignoring any requirement to repay loans to the public purse.
Peter Galbavy, London, UK

See also:

21 Dec 01 | UK
Train fares to rise
18 Dec 01 | Business
Q&A: Railtrack profits
18 Dec 01 | Business
Railtrack threatens legal action
14 Dec 01 | Business
Railtrack appoints new chief
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