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Give and take

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Jun/Jul 2012

It’s summertime, which means terrible PR for the rail industry as we all go into paroxysms over the extent of fare rises.

The Government has confirmed that last year’s rise of ‘only’ RPI + 1% was a one-off, meaning this year’s will go back to the original plan of RPI + 3%, meaning the likely fare rise on regulated tickets come the new year will be around 6%.

Ministers say this is just a necessary step on a journey that will eventually see the end of inflation-busting fare rises, but unsurprisingly have not put a precise timeline on this.

They make a plausible case for the rises: shifting the burden from the taxpayer to the passenger on the one hand, and continuing investment on the other. The unions are having none of that, and argue loudly and repeatedly that much of the money is creamed off by private businesses, lawyers arguing about delay attribution, the rolling stock leasing structure, and so on. Bob Crow’s solution to the high cost of the industry, when asked by MPs? ‘Nationalise it. Nationalise it. Nationalise it.’

The operators seem to be toying with letting the public know just how much control the state does still have, by launching a campaign against the proposed RPI +3% rise. An ATOC memo makes the point that this would put the TOCs on the same side as passengers, who would be reminded of the large role the DfT plays in fare rises. It would send the message that they’re not just about profit-seeking, the TOCs think.

It could be a sensible bit of positioning, and the fact their thinking has become public will do them no harm, but whether actually launching such a campaign would be worth the damaged relationship with the DfT is questionable – especially as the TOCs seek the DfT’s help over franchising reform and want a lid kept on the ORR’s desired expansion to have more of a role in regulating the operators.

There will hopefully be more positive news for the public in the HLOS, also due this summer: the Government knows it will need to find money for a few headlinegrabbing projects, though whether this will extend to, say, the entire Northern Hub or Midland Main Line electrification, we don’t yet know. Ministers say they fully acknowledge the role rail infrastructure investment can have on economic growth and connectivity – plus, leaving the Northern Hub unfunded while going ahead with Crossrail, Reading, Thameslink and so on could send an unfortunate political message about prioritising the south east, which is already in pole position economically.

There are plenty of projects out there that make great sense both financially and in pure transport terms: let’s hope the Government digs deep and invests.

Adam Hewitt - Editor

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Anonymous   09/08/2012 at 09:22

The one thing I do agree with the RMT about is that the fragmented railway adds complexity which adds cost. I would suggest the TOCs are, for the main part, not on the side of the passenger as shown by the complex (and unfair) fare system, the disjointed timetables and the way fare rises are applied to specific journeys. As far as I am aware, the RPI+3% isn't a mandated rise but a cap. The falling payments from government were clearly defined at contract award so can we actually say the TOCs are able to waive their hands in the air and point to the DfT as the major cause of fare rises? I don't think so.

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