On and Off the Rails

The Performance of UK Rail Services in the News

23 August 2016
Following the announcement of the Retail Price Index figures for July, we can expect regulated rail fares to increase by 1.9% on average in January 2017.
This increase is a bitter pill to swallow for regions where investment in services continues to fall short, or where the workforce continues to be in dispute with the rail franchisee resulting in strike action. While the privatisation of rail services has undoubtedly seen new investment in the network, over the last decade price increases have outpaced wage growth, and rail travellers expect to see a more reliable and quality service. Calls for nationalisation seem to suggest that this would reduce cost and improve the services available, but in truth such an undertaking would only work based upon a framework that required further nationwide investment that may be difficult for any government to commit to in the foreseeable future.
Recent news items have also raised concerns over lower rates being “hidden” by the rail operators, further damaging the perception of the rail industry. At PHR we are very careful to deploy rail services to customers based upon providing the lowest cost packages of rail fares first, while giving the traveller choice based upon their needs. In the majority of instances, presenting fares in this way should enable the traveller to make an informed decision on their journey including the number of changes they are happy to make. There are occasions when a traveller can structure longer journeys so that they can book a cheaper fare, potentially without the need to change trains. However, this isn’t without risk and potential cost. Not only do you need to think about the additional time it will take you to book a more complex journey, but please bear in mind that you may not retain seat reservations, and a part of your journey could be rescheduled causing you delay.
With increasing fares, difficult changes and poor press, the UK rail industry is in a difficult place at the moment. It’s not unreasonable to expect services to operate well and get us from A to B in a manner that allows us to focus on our day. The benchmark for many of the frustrations seem to be the frameworks franchisees are working to, and how effectively their performance is governed. Perhaps some form of re-balancing of service expectations would go some way towards helping the industry restore customer confidence.
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