Saturday, 14 April 2012

“Rail travel reaches 90-year high” – That’s the headline in the industry newspaper “Railnews April 2012”


It goes on to say that “New figures show that the number of railway passengers in Britain has reached a level not seen for more than 90 years, and may be close to setting an all-time record”.

In another article in the same “Railnews” it tells us that the West Midlands has seen the number of rail journeys almost doubled since 2001 and that in 2010/11 42.8 million journeys were made.


Impressive figures and from the overcrowding on some trains you will be well aware of the increases. 

Levels not seen for more than 90 years, I wonder why? And what has been the real increase for the years of Dr Beeching assessment of the railways where the motor car was taking over a lot of journeys and the very high cost of motoring today and therefore the number of people returning to the railways because of this.

I’m one of those who for over a year now have most days commuted to work instead of driving for the very reason of cost. As I live in the West Midlands area I’m lucky enough to be able to purchase a Bus and Rail monthly season ticket by direct debit which costs only £81.50. This entitles me to travel on all the Bus operating companies buses within the West Midlands county boundary and also all trains within the same area. Simple and convenient, one card that covers all that for less than one posh coffee per day. My costs to and from work before I shifted travel mode was on average £180 per month excluding car tax and insurance which I still of course pay. I am sure many more people have done the same to stretch whatever income they have. If your outside the West Midlands then I am aware public transport costs are higher but there are add-on tickets to the Centro card which can still save you money.

These season tickets were not available in their present form in 1963 or was as many bus companies or regular buses but still the railway network was savagely cut. Many people worked and lived locally to their employment so it wasn’t always necessary to travel by public transport to work.

People now work further away from where they live, fuel prices have rocketed as well as motor insurance. People are working longer hours, working on the go via mobile devices so railway travel is looking more and more inviting to a lot of people who wouldn’t have dreamt of it five or ten years ago.

Whilst there are many more train operating companies than there were in 1963 there are all operating to have our custom and make money. Each of them have their own promotions and the one that covers all local services within the West Midlands County is London Midland. With Cross Country and Arriva operating out to Leicester, Derby, Shrewsbury etc. Cross Country together with Virgin Trains undertake more long distance services. At one time before government deregulation we had one company that undertook to do all and was called British Rail.
P1000070
(A London Midland Class 172 Unit approaches Smethwick Galton Bridge on the Snow Hill Lines)

The railways these days is far from British but we all want to get from A to B on time at reasonable cost if possible but do we really care what the train company is called that tries to fulfil our requirements?

In 1963 we had Dr Beeching reporting on our railways, in 2011 we had Sir Roy McNulty's. We was charged with giving an ” independent Rail Value for Money” Using their words “The review, which was jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, recommended ways in which the whole industry can work towards delivering a safe and efficient railway which represents value-for-money for customers and taxpayers.”
Without commenting directly on that review as there are more expert people than me on that, isn’t it possibly another case of Dr Beeching mark 2 to some extent?

I am sure all the Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) are like any business reviewing the services they deliver, save on costs but not lose customers. However as I’ve said before you cannot run trains to places that the railway no longer has tracks. In many parts of the country there are reports and studies being done at the cost of many thousands of pounds. What happens to these reports once they have been published? All local authorities and businesses say yes re-openings are a good idea and then like many of them get dusty on the shelf only to be used for yet another study 5 or ten years down the line.

Mary Portas who has reported recently on the state of the high Street has said its no use commissioning reports and findings if people don’t get off their backsides and do something about them afterwards.

Yes I know its all about finances but also about social need. Our present Prime Minister David Cameron is encouraging the Big Society and working together and whatever your politics its makes sense if people do actually work together.

Recently I was asked at Walsall station by a stranger how they could get to Lichfield  and they were appalled when I told them that the Bus service was every 90 minutes and there best way was to go to Aston or better still Dudeston so avoid the steps and change their for a Cross City service. At the best of times this would take them about 50 mins to an hour. Or travel to Rugeley Trent Valley and then travel down the West Coast Main Line to Lichfield Trent Valley and change for Lichfield City. I asked them the reason they wanted to go to Lichfield from Walsall and they said only recently moved into the area and they had been offered a interview and the Job was ideal for them. On hearing the tortuous way round they would have to go they said “might as well forget it”

Another person asked me best way of getting to Wolverhampton from Walsall and sadly I had to say “By Bus” as there is only one direct train a day to Wolverhampton at 19:36 the rest via New Street which takes almost an hour.

The above is are only two examples that I've come across but am sure there are many more not only for the South Staffs line but many more up and down the Country where services have been curtailed or lines torn up through lack of foresight or other priorities.
Isn't it time to take the Mary Portas line and take action on some of the Local Transport reports that have been undertaken in recent years, local and public positive partnership and funding to re-instate new transport links and upgrade others.

 (Former South Staffs Rail Line near Brownhills April 2012 (c) Dave Cresswell)

But of course if we do that the Treasury surely will lose out on monies because people wouldn’t be paying high taxes in fuel duties or tax on insurance premiums? If they travel by more economic public transport means.

This Blog are my own views and not those necessarily of the South Staffs Rail Group. For more on the South Staffs Line please go to southstaffsrail.co.uk