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How fair are the fares Transport Committe Inquiry

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Published 19th May 2006
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Rail Fares

 1.   The national Travel Survey 2004 shows that those in the top quintile of income travel more than twice as far by surface rail as do those in the next highest quintile and four times as far as do those in each of the bottom two quintiles.  The distances per year per person are as follows, where the data excludes London Underground[1].

  • Highest Quintile            828 miles.
  • Fourth level                  378 miles.
  • Third Level                   331 miles.
  • Second Level               180 miles.
  • Lowest Level                207 miles.
  • All income levels           384 miles
  1. Not only are these distances quite trivial compared with 6,762 miles per head per year by all modes but also the subsidy to rail is running at between £4.5bn and £6.5bn per year, see Annex.  £5bn is equivalent to:
  • £200 per year for every household in the land - at a time when half of us use the train less than once a  year [2]
  • £250,000 per year per track-mile.
  • 19 pence per passenger-mile – implying subsidy of £38 for a £100 mile return trip (see note).

Further, nearly 50% of passenger rail journeys start or end in London, over 60 % start or end in the London and the South East  [3].

  1. We comment – if, rather than inadvertently subsiding the wealthiest in the land, the Government wishes to subsidise some deserving would-be travellers then let the money be paid directly to them, leaving them to decide their own expenditure.
  2. In contrast to the drain on the exchequer that the railways are, net payments to the exchequer attributable to motor vehicles amounted to £28bn in 2002/03.  That is equivalent to £1,100 for every household in the land or to 6 pence per passenger mile.  Further the contribution per lane-mile made to the Exchequer by the motorway and trunk road network has the range £275,600 to  £360,000, see Annex.
  3. Additionally, if the railways were paved, express coaches and lorries would discharge the national rail function at one quarter the cost of the train while cutting death rates by a factor of two and cutting fuel consumption by 20-25%.  At the same time countless lorries and other vehicles would divert from the unsuitable rural roads and city streets that they currently clog and endless acres of derelict or near derelict railway land would be developed [4]. some 250,000 rail passengers enter central London in the peak hour. They use 25 pairs of tracks. Hence the peak passengers per hour per inbound track amount to only 10,000 - sufficient to fill 200 50-seat express coaches. Those coaches would offer seats to all the previously crushed rail commuters while occupying one fifth of the highway capacity available if the system were paved. 5]
  1. As to the scale of fares we note that Megabus offers returns between London and other cities as far away as Birmingham for as little as £2.50 if booked in advance - several times less expensive than by rail despite the coaches suffering road congestion.
  2. We conclude that subsidising rail fares has led to a massive distortion of the UK Transport system - causing great loss to the nation as a whole for more than 50 years.  Rather than perpetuating that the Government should phase subsidy out, leaving the market to determine how best to use the rail network, provided only that the 10,000 miles of right of way should be preserved for transport rather than being abandoned piecemeal, as happened to 9,000 miles following the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s.


The subsidy of 19 pence per passenger-mile to rail, cited above, is several times the values quoted by the Strategic Rail Authority in Appendix 5 of its Annual report of 2004.  That is because the SRA’s values ignore both grant paid to Network Rail and loan, amounting to £22bn, which can never be repaid from the fare box but which is backed by Government guarantee.

[1] National Travel Survey data 2004 (data obtained by special request to the DfT).

[2] Paragraph 2 of the Forward to the Strategic Rail Authority’s publication, Everyone’s railway the wider case for rail.

[3] Table 7.1 of National Rail Trends, the Strategic Rail Authority’s Yearbook, 2004-2005.

[4] The House of Commons Transport Committee: The Future of the Railways Volume II Evidence page 241 or see the Transport-Watch web site

[5] Donald A Morin Chief of public Transportation, US Department of Transport wrote in Highway Progress in 1970 that “if one lane (of a free way) were reserved for buses it could carry 50,000 passengers an hour in 1,000 buses each with 50 passengers (all seated)” – a fact born out by highway capacity manuals the world over.


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