With Further Escalating Train Fares it may be Cheaper to Drive in Britain than to Take the Train

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2012

Week in Review

Britain privatized their trains in the Nineties.  But they still have to subsidize them.  Despite incredibly high rail fares (see Rail commuters face ‘Great Train Robbery’ as fares rocket by up to 11% with some season tickets costing £6,000 by Ray Massey posted 8/14/2012 on the Daily Mail).

Rail passengers face fare rises of up to 11 per cent next year after a higher-than-expected jump in the inflation rate.

The increases will add hundreds of pounds to annual season tickets, with some commuters seeing season ticket fares to London crash through the £6,000 barrier.

And there is no end in sight to the inflation-busting hikes, as ministers admitted they will continue every year until at least 2015.

Train company bosses, whose firms will pocket much of the extra cash, passed the buck by insisting it was not their decision to hike the fares – it was government policy.

From next January 1, train firms can raise their ‘regulated’ fares – which include rush-hour commuter travel, season tickets and off-peak fares – by three percentage points more than the RPI inflation figure for July, which was revealed yesterday as 3.2 per cent.

That means commuter and other ‘regulated’ fares will be allowed to rise by 6.2 per cent…

But passenger groups, campaigners and unions said it was a ‘rip-off’ and yet another ‘Great Train Robbery’ that would benefit only rail bosses and their bonus pots at the expense of hard-pressed travellers and commuters…

By 2015 the annual cost of commuting to London from Birmingham will have soared from £9,004 to £10,663, which accounts for 28 per cent of the average London salary, says the campaign group.

That’s a lot of money, £10,663.  Based on today’s exchange rate that comes to about $16,741 US.  Or about $321.94 each week.  So how much gas would that buy?  A lot.  Who pumps $321.94 of gas into their tank each work week (5 days)?  I’m guessing not many.  If we did what would that get us?  Well, let’s make a few assumptions.  If gas was $6/gallon that would get us 53.7 gallons of gasoline.  Or as they say on the other side of the pond, petrol.  If you’re driving something shoe boxy like they do in Europe that gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway that would let you travel 1,878 miles each work week.  Or 376 miles each work day.  Or 188 miles one way.  And another 188 miles back home.  So how far are Birmingham and London from each other?  Approximately 120 miles.  Which means ‘saving money’ by using mass transit will cost more than driving a car.  As you can drive a distance three times longer for the same cost as the train.

The above figures don’t even take into account government subsidies.  So on top of these incredible rail fares are government subsides.  Making passenger rail even less of a bargain.

Trains are simply not the bargain people claim them to be.  Other than hauling heavy freight.  Where only a ship can compete with them.  But passenger rail?  It’s a money loser.  Requiring heavy government support.  Or astronomically high passenger fares.  Or both.  Why are they so expensive?  Because they require so much infrastructure.  And enormous amounts of people to make them work.  Which is why in the transportation industry they are least affected by spikes in fuel costs.  Because unlike trucking, bussing and flying, fuel is not their greatest expense.  Because everything else costs so much more than fuel.

This is something to keep in mind whenever politicians talk about building passenger rail.  Especially high-speed rail.  Very few of these can pay for themselves.  Freight railroads can operate at a profit for they are the best alternative to transporting heavy freight.  But when it comes to transporting passengers there is always a better alternative.  And a more cost efficient alternative.  From flying to driving to taking the bus.

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