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Latest Issue


Going off the Rails

The current rail strikes are causing chaos in the country far beyond the dislocation of people's travel plans. COVID has already changed many peoples working habits, re-inforcing the demand to work from home, or to adopt hybrid working patterns. The 25% drop in rail journeys from 437 million in the second quarter of 2020-2021, down to 443 million in the same period in 2022 according to Government figures represents a huge drop in income for the industry – the Government provides a direct grant to Network Rail and additional subsidies to train operating companies. The shortfall in income from passengers to pay these subsidies is paid, therefore, by the taxpayer – you and me.

Apart from the rise in the general cost of living, the cost per mile of a typical train journey is far higher in the UK than in all European countries –55p per mile over an equivalent journey with the nearest at 46p (Norway) and Germany and Italy both under 20p. You will find a surprising correlation between the average income of train drivers (especially) and other workers in the industry. UK train drivers earn at least 20% above the nearest equivalent.

I hesitate before pushing a political message here, but the rail industry is a critical element of the future infrastructure of the country, and a reluctance to embrace more modern building practices and holding the country to ransom to extract more money from us and the Government has wider ramifications.

We are trying to phase out ICE technology in favour of electrically operated vehicles. The vast majority of road users – strapped for cash with the rising cost of living –rely on the low prices and longevity of second hand vehicles. Few will be able to afford to make the leap to the high prices for the new technology, and the press has many stories about the replacement cost of batteries for older EVs. The demographics of work will shift as more people are forced to use public transport to get to work –or working from home will become more imperative. The roundabout continues.

Slip any industry into the mix –hotels, restaurants, theaters, real estate (office) owners, pubs, schools – and you can work out for yourself the ramifications caused by an ever spiralling upward cost of the railway system and the increasing frequency of strikes, stoppages and general unreliability.

Having said that I am currently looking up the availability of a holiday taking the train from the UK to Salzburg in Austria – a pleasant and relaxing prospect – but will be taking the bus from Taunton to London.

David Chadwick

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