Letter: Commuting by train now costs as much 27 pence per minute as much - as making a premium rate phone call for some commuters

Date published: 09 January 2017

Dear Editor,

I'd like to thank Rochdale Online for publishing my letter on rail privatisation, 'Majority of the UK public want a publicly owned railway', Rochdale Online, 08/01/2017, at:

As a regular correspondent to Rochdale Online 'Letters to the Editor', like many people I am grateful we still have a locally based media outlet in our town that covers such a wide range of subjects and opinion. In fact, 'The only ROCHDALE based news office breaking local news'.

I'd like if I could just make a few fairly quick responses by right of reply to Mr David Lees recent Rochdale Online Facebook comment: 'Mr Wastling, if you are going to publish articles like this then please get your facts correct before hitting the keyboard.'

Now whether people agree with my letter on rail privatisation or not is somewhat immaterial in this respect, but what is not immaterial is the fact that I go to considerable lengths to check for accuracy, double check facts and statistics, seek whenever possible primary independently sourced evidence and statistics to support and validate everything I put into the public domain for possible publication. This piece on rail nationalisation was no exception.

Those who know me will agree that I have been at great pains, almost obsessively compulsively so, to verify and research any given subject before 'hitting the keyboard' before submitting any article, letter or correspondence for publication in the public domain and have done so for many, many years. As a writer to a wide range of publications online or otherwise I've learnt this from bitter experience. In fact, I take great pride in researching wherever humanly possible both sides of an argument before reaching any conclusion, and certainly before putting my words above the 'literary barricades' for public dissection.

So I am pleased that Mr Lees appears to agree with me in spirit at least when he posts: 'Privatisation has been far from perfect, with most of the money going to the leasing companies (started by British Rail),' but seems a tad confused when he then appears to contradict himself somewhat by asserting that: 'but it is far better than nationalisation'. How so Mr Lees?

He is correct in so far as most of the money goes into private hands. some £222 million of it goes directly into private hands, when at the same time rail travellers on some lines will be paying £2,000 more for their yearly ticket than they were in 2010.

In fact, commuting by train now costs as much per minute as making a premium rate phone call. The Campaign for Better Transport says that works out at 27p per minute, the cost of a premium number call, for some commuters.

Or Mr Lees may prefer to read instead The Action for Rail campaign which released figures showing that UK passengers pay six times more for their train tickets than people in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Recent increases in fares mean that rail fares are going up by 2.3% on average in 2017, so passengers will feel even more of a squeeze on their pockets after the festive period.

The same research by Action for Rail also found that over the last ten years, rail fares have increased more than twice as much as earnings. During the same period (55% for rail fares, but only 24% for wages).

'Trains are often cancelled, delayed, overcrowded and understaffed. While passengers pay more for the rail services, the dividends paid to rail company shareholders was £222 million in 2014/15, almost a quarter increase of 21% on the previous year. Instead of reinvesting the money back into the railways to ensure the trains run on time, the rail network is properly staffed and passengers’ fares are affordable, your money is lining the pockets of shareholders'.

This privatised rail 'rip off 'of the British public is also borne out by the General Secretary, ASLEF points out that: 'On every measure put forward by John Major 20 years ago, rail privatisation has failed. Fares, and public subsidies, have soared, we now have the highest fares in Europe, while trains have got more crowded. It’s outrageous that companies can, at no risk, take a private profit, made at public expense, out of the industry. That’s millions of pounds leaking every day which could be used to bring down fares, be ploughed back in investment in new infrastructure, or returned – like the £1 billion made by East Coast when it was in public ownership, to the Treasury to pay for schools or hospitals or housing.'

This survey was extensively covered in the Guardian; 'Rail fares: train operators accused of milking the system as rises kick in (2 January 2017): 'Average increase across the country of 2.3% prompts calls from campaigners for the fares and ticketing system to be overhauled'.

And in the Mirror, 'Tory plans to sell off rail networks could cost taxpayer £10billion in a decade' ., (27 June 2016): 'A study for pressure group We Own claims the costs of the sale and the loss of income, would be £10billion over the next 10 years. Network Rail expects to make just £1.8billion from the sale. RMT union boss Mick Cash said: “It’s a grotesque false economy.'

The full Report: Privatising Network Rail: A Ten Billion Pound ticket to disaster' We Own It, June 2016 can be read online at the We Own it campaign website at:

Since British Rail was broken up and privatised between 1994 and 1997, rail services in the UK have been provided by private companies. There are 16 rail franchises in the UK. This cost of running the railways has more than doubled in real terms since privatisation, from £2.4 billion from 1990-95 to around £5.4 billion per year from 2005-10.

As rail expert Lynn Sloman, Director, Transport for Quality of Life, argues: 'The We Own It poll shows that the general public sees clearly what politicians refuse to recognise. Ordinary people who actually use the railways understand that privatisation is a direct cause of the mess of confusing ticketing, misinformation and unconnected services that we suffer.

Cutting up the previously unified national rail network so that private companies can extract profit has not been in passengers’ interests, and it’s not in the wider public interest. It is high time the Government also recognised the accumulated evidence of two decades of failed privatisation and abandoned their rail privatisation dogma.'

Mr Lees really should pop down to Rochdale Railway Station early doors one morning soon to see first-hand the reality of the privatised rail network in all its glory for long suffering local commuters; the first train out to Manchester Victoria departs usually (fingers crossed) at around 6.23am. He can then meet some of the 66% of people who according to the independent salvation survey want our railways renationalised. I'd be glad to buy him an overpriced privatised cup of coffee, if the kiosk is open.

Incidentally could Mr Lees be so kind as to please cite the source of his fact that privatisation; 'is far better than nationalisation', since I would be anxious to read this independent factual source for ongoing research purposes myself.


Andrew Wastling

The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.

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