The New Year above-inflation rise in train fares is our annual reminder of the failure of rail privatisation.
Supported by governments since 1994, foreign, state-owned rail companies are using profits made in the UK to subsidise their own networks. Selling off our trains was supposed to bring private investment but the rail companies have been happy to pack commuters onto old trains and cream off the profits. Their solution to overcrowding is higher fares rather than longer, more frequent trains. This is not running trains as a public service.
The latest government folly is HS2. At a cost of at least £42 billion (around £80 million per kilometre!), HS2 would bulldoze its way through South Yorkshire homes and communities on its way to faster journeys for Leeds and Newcastle. Sheffield spent £190,000 of council taxpayers’ money lobbying government but will just become the end of a branch line. Links to Leeds and Manchester will be no better and promises to create extra space on the existing network are being broken.
So what could be done differently?
We could bring forward wide-scale electrification. Running trains on electricity, rather than diesel, is cheaper and means faster and more comfortable journeys. We could re-open the Stocksbridge line and old stations such as Heeley and Millhouses and improve the links to other northern cities, particularly across the Pennines. These improvements would be much simpler, much cheaper and bring benefits to many more people than HS2.