Britain’s railways are renowned for being the most expensive in Europe, possibly the world. And next year, according to today's announced price hike, they're due to get even pricier.
According to estimates made before the increase was announced, the rise in inflation rates could see workers in Britain’s biggest commuter towns being forced to pay £5,000 a year in order to get to work.
To illustrate the difference in prices between Britain and the rest of Europe, we’ve examined the price of a train fare between places of relative distance.
So, how much further can you travel in Europe for the price of a British train ride? Can you get from Manningtree to Liverpool Street, or Lewes to Victoria for less than Paris to Milan?
Here's what the figures show:Related Articles
As an adult around London, one day's travel comes to the same cost as almost six days in Warsaw, assuming you bought a new travel card every day. Anyone for Gulasz?
There's an estimated nine mile difference in the distances between London to Bristol and Marsille to Nice, but a £67.50 price difference. Mon Dieu.
It's more than three times as expensive to travel from Milan to Rome as from London to Edinburgh. We may have invented the railway system, but I'm not sure we're using it particularly well.
When rail fares increase, the nation unites in dismay. But however much the public are unhappy with the constant price hikes, with our current model, they’re here to stay.
Today’s announcement that regulated rail fares will be increased by as much as 5.6 per cent next year is another blow for rail commuters. If you compare this figure to real wages (which have decreased by 0.2 per cent over the last three months) it’s pretty clear that our privatised rail model is broken. It's been argued however, that a publicly owned rail system could save £1.2 billion a year. This could be used to cut fares by 18 per cent across the board. It would be more efficient, cheaper, greener network that the nation could be proud of.
Since privatisation, the average price of a train journey has increased by 22 per cent and walk-on tickets on some routes have been hiked by a huge 245 per cent. With figures like these it's not hard to imagine railways becoming the preserve of the rich.
Compared with our European neighbours, the high price of rail fares in the UK seems ludicrous. A study by the TUC looked at the cost of UK rail commutes against similar European journeys. It compared the St Albans to London St Pancras season ticket with similar journeys in Germany, France and Spain and found that we’re paying three times more of our salary just to get to work and back. A recent Passenger Focus survey showed only 45 per cent of passengers believed their train service provides value for money. So it’s clear that we have a problem. But how did we get here and how can we turn things around?Video: Protests over planned rail fare hikes
Since British Rail was privatised in 1993, rail services in the UK have been provided by private companies. Rail companies then bid for the right to operate services, a costly, difficult and ultimately, unnecessary procedure. According to Christian Wolmar. transport expert: “No other country in the world runs its railways in this bizarre way and the process in Britain has led to instability and uncertainty in an industry that thrives on consistent and long-term thinking.”
To understand why things have got this bad you have to look at a couple of major flaws in the model of privatised rail. Firstly, lack of competition. Genuinely competitive markets can drive down prices but only if there is genuine choice. As most rail commuters around the UK will tell you, they have one option to get to work so there is no real competition in our rail system. If you’re let down by bad service you can’t commute with an alternative rail provider, you can’t ‘vote with your feet’.
Secondly, the funding model of privatised railways is based on a fiction. The costs of running a ‘public service railway’ are not covered by the fares alone and never will be. So to ensure that railways fulfil certain public service obligations the Government has subsidised train operating companies, but this is not a sustainable funding solution.
When it comes to subsidies, what goes in one end can often seem to come straight out of the other, from taxpayers straight into the pockets of shareholders. For example, between 1997 and 2012 on the West Coast Mainline, Virgin Trains paid out a total of £500 million in dividends, having received a direct subsidy of £2.5 billion .
But there is light at the end of the tunnel and we don’t have to look very far to find it. The inability of two train operators to continue operating the East Coast mainline meant the Government had to step in. A publicly owned operating company, Directly Operated Railways or East Coast took over the route.
Since then East Coast has received £0.46 of government funding per passenger mile, compared to £4.57 on West Coast. At the same time, East Coast returns the highest level of premium back to the Government. Since 2009, it has returned over £1 billion to the Government. This is more than Virgin on West Coast and more than National Express paid while it was running the East Coast service. It also receives far less in indirect subsidy through Network Grant than West Coast.
East Coast also shows that performance and customer service can be improved by a publicly owned railway; it has been the recipient of 35 industry awards and in a recent Passenger Focus survey East Coast has a passenger satisfaction rating of 92 per cent, higher than the 89 per cent for all long distance operators and the highest customer satisfaction rating of any operator ever holding the East Coast franchise. It has just recorded the highest level of ‘employee engagement’ in franchise history, at 71 per cent and sickness absence has been reduced by a third since 2009.
The fact that East Coast has returned over £1 billion for the taxpayer is good news for the public - and those that travel on this part of the network. The trouble is that the rest of us are often subject to substandard service and rocketing prices. The only sustainable alternative is a completely joined up, public system. It’s easy and cheap to do; as each franchise expires the route could be returned to the public.
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Workers who commute by train spend up to six times as much of their salaries on fares as European passengers on publicly owned railways, a study has revealed.
Labour supporters are protesting against "Tory tickets" after a rail fares hike, making commuting in London "the most expensive in the world".
Action for Rail, a campaign by rail unions and the TUC, said some UK workers were spending 13% of their monthly wages on rail travel compared with 2% in Italy, the Press Association reported.
The research was published to highlight protests at more than 60 railway stations by campaigners and rail workers to mark the return to work after the festive break, with fares having increased at the weekend.
Some workers are spending more than a tenth of their wage on train travel
The analysis looked at a UK worker on an average salary who is spending 13% of their monthly wages on a £357.90 monthly season ticket from Chelmsford to London.
By contrast, the average amount of salary going on a monthly season ticket for a similar journey is 2% in Italy, 3% in Spain and 4% in Germany.
In France, which is the closest to the UK for cost, commuters still spend nearly a third less on season tickets than their counterparts in the UK, said the report.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to press at a protest outside King's Cross Station
Labour's London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan is promising to freeze rail fares in the capital if he wins the election next year, and Labour campaigners and MPs are on the streets today, blaming the Conservatives for price increases that "cost us a fortune".
The opposition party is promoting an app that claims to show people "how much your Tory ticket has gone up over the last eight years" and the Action For Rail campaign is demonstrating in London for an end to rail fare rises, more of which were put in place in the new year.
In fact, fares have been rising above inflation for more than a decade, including under Labour, as governments try to shift some of the cost of railways from the taxpayer to passengers.
Reminding Chiswick commuters; London commuting is the most expensive in the world. #FareRises @SadiqKhan pic.twitter.com/ESlRiEwnYq
Rail ticket prices
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre right) flanked by Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Lillian Greenwood (centre left) holds a placard while he attends a protest over rail fares outside King's Cross Station, London, as the Government was accused of profiting from commuters as the annual hike in rail fares hits people returning to work.
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Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Rail, Maritime and Transport union leader Mick Cash said: “Today is national rail rip-off day when, along with the looming Christmas credit card bills, the British public awake to another kick in the teeth from the greedy private train companies. We would urge everyone to join with the trade unions to end the money-making racket on our rail tracks in 2016. “
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Profit made on passengers in the UK is not reinvested here, but repatriated to Germany, France, Belgium and Hong Kong to subsidise journeys of passengers there.
"We need a railway for the future – that means a publicly owned rail service operating in the interests of British passengers, with every penny made in profit reinvested in the railways or in cheaper fares for passengers."
Unite acting national officer for rail Hugh Roberts said: "European state-owned rail companies provide excellent services and cheaper fares as part of coherent national economic strategies. The UK Government's ideological reliance on the profit-hungry private sector has been a disaster – and the majority of the public wants the railways taken back into public ownership."
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Taking the railways back into public hands is a popular policy. The vast majority of voters – Conservative included – are fed up with paying sky-high fares so the privatised train companies can take their slice. Commuters travelling into London from Kent and Sussex know their £5,000 a year season tickets would be much cheaper under public ownership.”
Action for Rail said it looked at the price of monthly season tickets in five countries, and compared them with figures for annual median earnings for 2014, based on OECD statistics.
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There's been lots of fuss in the papers about the UK having higher rail fares than Europe. So much so, I decided to do a test myself.Long-distance inter-city or short-distance commuter?
First, I believe that any sensible discussion of fares must be clearly divided into long distance or short distance/commuter, as the issues are totally different. It makes no more sense to discuss rail fares all in one go than to discuss 'bus fares' without saying whether you mean National Express Victoria coach station to Leeds, or the number 13 from Baker Street to Oxford Circus. Commuter/short distance fares are largely subsidized, and broadly-speaking it's a political choice between higher taxation, higher subsidy, lower fares, and lower taxation, lower subsidy and higher fares, which we Brits have tended to make lower down the tax/subsidy range and higher up the fare price range than other countries, for better or for worse. But here, I'll look at long distance fares.The test. The results even surprised me.
I picked four fairly-similar routes: London to Sheffield 265Km, Paris to Dijon 287Km, Rome to Florence 261Km, Nuremberg to Kassel 265Km. Actually, I didn't pick the first three, a journalist who contacted me had already identified these as comparable, so I simply re-used them, no pre-selecting particularly-cheap UK routes or particularly-expensive Continental routes on my part. The fourth route was simply the first inter-city German route of about 265Km I came across flicking through the German part of the Thomas Cook European Timetable. So, nothing up my sleeve, no funny business in the choice of routes, I was doing this for my benefit as much as public consumption. I then simply used www.nationalrail.co.uk for UK prices, www.tgv-europe.com for French prices, www.trenitalia.com for Italian prices and www.bahn.de for German prices. All very simple to do.1. Booking a month in advance.
OK, so first test. We try booking a train at midday, exactly one month ahead.If pre-booked 1 month ahead, 12:00 train
�35 (�29) on all departures around lunchtime
So interestingly Britain seems to have the cheapest long distance fares in this test. True, had I picked an evening peak train around 17:00, the London-Sheffield price would have gone up to �50, down to �25 around 18:30, back to �12.50 around 20:00. But you get the picture. Update: In case you think London-Sheffield is a special case, I tried London-Manchester. �12.50. I then tried London-Leeds, �22.50. London-Cardiff �12 or �19.2. If travelling tomorrow.
Ha, ha, ha, that was pre-booking way in advance, of course it was cheaper! What if you wanted to go tomorrow, then we'd easily have the most expensive train fares in Europe, right? I'm sorry to say I thought that might indeed be the case. But the results surprised even me:If pre-booked for travel tomorrow, 12:00 train
�73 (�61) on all departures
In the UK, you can book advance fares up till 18:59 the day before travel, and in practice often up to 23:59 (even if they say 18:59!). All the German cheapies disappear 3 days ahead, which is why the German route is now at the �73 full-price rate. Economy & Super-economy fares also seem to have dried up between Rome & Florence.3. If travelling today.
OK, OK, but that was still pre-booking an Advance ticket wasn't it? What if you just turn up at the station and need to buy a ticket for the next train, then we're waaaaay pricier than Europe, right? Indeed, I thought we probably would be, but it's easy enough to run the test and find out. But guess what, another surprise!For travel today, bought at the station, immediate departure, outside the peaks.
London to Sheffield
Nuremburg to Kassel
�73 (�61) on all departures
For a purely one-way journey the UK is now more expensive. But hold your horses! For historic reasons an Off-Peak (formerly Saver) return is �1 more than a 1 way - this was inherited from BR at privatisation, and is now fossilised by Government fares regulation (it's a long story!). So a round trip would be �70.50, equivalent to just �35.25 each way, whereas all the other countries you'd pay double what you see above. So what d'ya know, if you're making a return journey the UK also seems cheapest for walk-up travel, assuming you avoid the Monday-Friday business peaks. Now, where did you read that good news in the papers. East Midland Trains Off-peak Tickets are similar in price to West Coast's as I recall, although in fairness you might get a different answer using an East Coast route, as (again for historic reasons) East Coast has always had higher Saver/Off-Peak fares than other operators. But you get the picture!4. If travelling today in the business peak hours.
And now for completeness and an all-round perspective of UK rail fares (because I think the whole truth is important, not just soundbites), what if you just need to wander into the airport and buy a fully-flexible ticket for the next flight, as you naturally do? Sorry, I mean wander into the station and buy a fully-flexible business ticket for the next train? Yup, you guessed it, now the UK is indisputably the most expensive, although this is only for travel in the Monday-Friday business peaks. I gather only 10-15% of travellers on a typical inter-city route buy these business-priced Anytime fares, so this is just 10-15% of the story. Always ask what the other 85-90% is! The Off-Peak fares referred to in test 3 above are likely to be bought by around 50%-55% of passengers on a typical long distance route, so are far more common.For travel today, bought at the station, immediate departure, business peak.
London to Sheffield
Money from fares fuels Britain's railway, a vital public service, and is supporting a £50billion-plus Railway Upgrade Plan. Find out more about major improvements across the country here: www.britainrunsonrail.co.uk
Around 97p in every £1 from fares goes back into running and improving services.
From January 2, 2017 rail fares will rise on average by 2.3 per cent. Not all fares increase. Overall some fares may go up, many will stay the same and some will reduce in price.
Discounting by train companies has contributed to passenger numbers more than doubling in the last 20 years. There were 1.7billion journeys a year on our railway last year (2015-16). That's more than 4.5million a day.
Around 40 per cent of rail fares are 'regulated', including Season tickets on most commuter journeys, some Off-Peak return tickets on long distance journeys and Anytime tickets around major cities. The government uses July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine the increase in the price of these fares.
Government policy influences all train fares, either through regulated fares such as Season tickets or through the payments it receives from train companies. Train companies paid the government more than £800million net last year, helping government to support the biggest investment in our railway since Victorian times.
To find out the cost of your Season ticket, as well as the average cost per journey, go to our Season ticket calculator.
Here we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about rail fares.Where does the money from my fare go?
On average, 97p in every pound of your fare goes back into the railway 1 .
The vast majority of revenue from fares covers the costs of services, for example paying for trains, fuel, staff and other day-to-day running costs, and helps to sustain investment in more trains, better stations and faster journeys.
Everyone in the railway works hard to get more out of every pound it receives and spends, to make passengers’ and taxpayers’ money go further to help to build a better railway.How much have rail fares risen over the years?
At around £5.46. the average price paid for a single journey is less now in real terms than it was ten years ago (£5.61 in 2016/2017 prices).
The average price paid per journey on a Season ticket has fallen in real terms by 12.8 per cent since 1999-2000.How do rail fares here compare with the rest of Europe?
Research published by the independent watchdog Transport Focus shows that while Britain had relatively high fares for some types of journeys compared to other countries in Europe, it also found that we have some of the lowest ticket prices for long distance journeys with operators now selling more and more cheap tickets.
Britain has Europe's fastest growing railway. UK passenger journey growth since 1997-98 has outstripped France, Germany and Spain. According to the most recent EU Commission survey, rail customers in the UK were more satisfied overall than those of any other major European railway.
Read more on the 2017 rail fares that have been published