When I moaned about trains last week, I did you a disservice. Plonking in those train departures as a table really wasn’t the best way to go about it. What I really should’ve done is make a pretty plot to show just how bad the situation was.
Well, I have one for you today. Not only that, but I’ve taken the chance to look at other countries too.
To recap, I need to travel from London to Leicester on the night of Friday December 23 along with just about everyone else, using East Midlands Trains, but the cost of tickets is extortionate.
In the plot below, this London-Leicester journey appears labelled as East Mids. For comparison I’ve looked to the Netherlands (Amsterdam-Eindhoven, NS), Germany (Berlin-Leipzig, DB) and France (Paris-Amiens, SNCF)
Now, I should say that I know next to nothing about train services in those three countries so I don’t know if they’re the best comparisons that I could have chosen. They were picked because the distance (as the crow flies) is roughly similar to the 90 miles between London and Leicester, and journey times are all roughly between an hour and a bit to not quite two hours.
Only direct journeys on the continent were considered, as St Pancras to Leicester is (almost always) a direct train. All the costs are in euros, with sterling converted.
With that out the way, let’s return to the basic question: It’s the Friday before Christmas Eve and you need to leave the capital for a city 90-ish miles away. How much does a single train fare cost you?
This is not the prettiest plot I’ve ever drawn and I blame railway privatisation. What shocks me the most about this is not the extremely high fares on British railways (although it is ridiculous!) but how erratic the fares are.
I’ve drawn a one-hour moving average for East Midlands Trains to give some shape to the individual fares, and the fact that I haven’t bothered for the other three tells you a lot about the underlying fares: they’re so consistent that drawing a line through them just makes it harder to read.
Dutch fares are absolutely consistent (€19.20 for Amsterdam-Eindhoven), whereas in France and Germany there’s a basic price but occasionally you can get a ticket few euros cheaper. That is the only deviation.
What I think is happening on East Mids is the private operator is trying to gouge travellers by increasing fares at popular times. But even that’s a mess. When I wrote a week ago, it would’ve cost £58.50 to travel at 21:30. Now it’s £17.50! I picked a ticket an hour later to get that price, when I would’ve much preferred to travel earlier.
Should I have waited? Who knows? The train I’m on is now more expensive. What will the price of these services be in a week’s time, higher or lower? There’s no way to tell.
These countries — whose publicly owned train operators all make money from running shoddy services in Britain — provide an essential public service on the railways and it’s priced as such. Yet train travel in Britain is not a service but a commodity to be sold for as high a price as the “market” will bear.