Today we live in an age where our phones act as handheld computers with the ability to organize our entire lives and 'Smart Assistants' can actually answer our questions and read our minds. That being said in Britain our rail network is barely the standard it was during the golden age of rail travel in the 1850s. Since the first passenger train was unveiled in Britain in 1804 Britain has led the way in rail travel but now it seems that this title has slipped irreplaceably out of our grasp.
By 1850 Britain had amassed over 7,000 miles of railway track and had established itself as the pioneer of rail travel. The Victorian era from this period onward was a golden age in terms of national transport and one which we should seek to emulate once again. This article shouldn't be read as a rant or a idealistic vision harking back to the 'golden times' but a critical look at our rail infrastructure today. The reason why I have such a strong view? I commute 25 minutes to Manchester by train every day and have to pay £7.30 for the privilege of a sub 30 minute journey, on which I can barely get my hands from my pocket to read a text message because of the cramped conditions, never mind get a seat. Statistics can be found throughout the article via the links.
The first thing that we should consider is the average age of our carriages. Although this may not seem important the age and condition of the vehicles we travel in adds to the overall experience. The age of trains on our began to decrease from 2005 but then once again began to increase alongside increasing prices well above inflation. This demonstrates that the rail companies even with government backing are in it for profit alone and don't consider 'user' experience. The average age of trains is now close to 20 years and I know the train I travel on was built in the 1970's (from the date on some carriages) and has had little revamp over the years.
Secondly which is a real annoyance for me is the timing of trains. The official statistics for the office of rail regulation states that Northern services had a 84.1% change of being late by their standards. Although this figure is lower than average it still demonstrates the need for changes to be made. Late trains have often forced me to be late for work, either putting me on bad terms with my employer, missing a meeting, or putting me out of pocket. However these statistics don't scratch the surface. The office of rail regulation states that a 'late' train is anything more than 5 minutes where as the standard in Japan is anything more than a few seconds late.
Rising costs are understandable, once you take into account inflation and rising fuel costs everyone understands that as with anything year to year you will pay more. However what is alarming when it comes down to rail fares is the rate in which they have increased. In 2003 franchised rail services earned 9.23 pence/KM whereas at the end of 2011 it was well over 12.7 pence/KM. That's a 37.6% increase which calculated over the entire period is much higher than inflation. These costs aren't justifiable as I know that every passenger on my 6:52 train to Manchester has paid the same £7.30 fare and at capacity 2 stops later it is physically impossible to fit anymore passengers on the train. The profit per carriage on these trains must be through the roof and demonstrates the need for change.
Everyone who uses rail travel, in the North West at least, will understand the need for change. In Greater Manchester the Transport Referendum was brought in to try and generate funds to improve the public transport network. However it would be unfeasible to ask the public to either pay to drive in to Manchester or add to the crumbling travel infrastructure for a number of years before it was to be improved. This is illogical. The network must be improved before people will be willing to use it. Unfortunately at least for the time being I have no choice and throughout the summer months will endure the 30 minute journey either way which eats into my salary.