By Samual Dale.
Every morning I jump out a bed ready for another day at work only to be immediately greeted by crowds of stressed commuters at my local train station. Earlsfield station at 8.30am is not a pretty sight and as I fight with fellow travellers I finally squeeze on to a train heading to Vauxhall station. Delays are normal and leave you crushed on a packed train as the train manager lamely announces another problem with the track or congestion at Clapham Junction causing problems. By the time I fall off the train half an hour later feeling sweaty and stressed I arrive into work after a consistently bad start to the day. For a daily return journey I pay at least £7 with a weekly travelcard which has increased from £5 a day, or 20%, in the last three years.
My experience reflects a particularly busy corner of south London but it is one that is shared with millions of commuters across the UK. Travelling to work is an integral part of our day and via trains it is a service that feels as though it is getting worse but with prices going up. Commuters are looking for someone to blame and increasingly looking to politicians for answers. Labour has made train fares a key plank of its responsible capitalism agenda and highlights it as an example of how big companies can take customers for granted when they know a service is essential.
Railways are another example of a former nationalised industry such as energy that drives consumers up the wall with double digit price increases and little market choice. Customers feel frustrated but it is not as simple as the big bad rail operators doing wrong. There are reasons why trains are costing more than ever before and companies need to remain profitable. One solution is to expand Britain’s rail capacity with more tracks and trains but new developments are met with fierce resistance by those who don’t want a railway line running through their backyard.
HS2 and Crossrail are planned constructions to ease congestion on some of the busiest lines in the country but are they enough? And will extra capacity ease ever rising rail prices? Is more competition possible and will it work? How can we better use the franchise system to drive down prices and drive up service?
The latest Young Fabians Anatomy is on the future of UK railways will try to answer some of these fundamental questions. It will be a detailed analysis of the problems facing UK commuters and rail travellers and hopefully it will come up with some solutions. Anatomy will work in three parts. Firstly there will be a Kick Off sessions in London and hopefully around the country for those willing to host (get in touch if you’re interested). These sessions will be a preliminary discussion on the key issues where initial ideas can be bandied about and further reading suggested. A few weeks later there is the main Anatomy roundtable which will bring together key industry speakers and be attended by Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Maria Eagle MP.
The event will be split into small seminar groups looking at different areas such as fares, service and rail infrastructure so everyone will have a role to play. Maria and the other speakers will talk briefly but spend the majority of the time speaking to and listening to contributions from attendees.
After the session a Young Fabian pamphlet will be produced with contributions from attendees and others involved in the project that will hopefully feed into the Labour policy process.
It will aim to be authoritative, technical and make a real impact on the debate so we hope you can write something to help make my morning commute a bit more comfortable and affordable.
Samual Dale is the Editor for Anatomy: Future of Britain’s Railways. For more information, visit the website.