Norman Baker writes … Rail fares

I passionately believe in the railways. They have the potential to bring the UK huge economic and environmental benefits. But ever-increasing train fares could also turn people away and back onto the roads. As a sustainable form of transport, trains need our support and in return they will help deliver growth and a cleaner, low carbon economy.

It’s so important that we let rail passengers and the public know that we really are on their side.

Ending inflation-busting rail fare hikes has been a Lib Dem policy for a long time, which is why I have been pushing within government to reduce the planned average increase in New Year train fares to RPI +1%, rather than RPI +3%. And it’s why I’m pleased that we were able to announce this lower than expected increase over the weekend, for the next two years. This is a move that will benefit more than a quarter of a million annual season ticket holders and thousands of monthly and weekly ticket holders.

I think it’s important we make it really clear that this doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our policy of bringing rail fares down. I have been consistent in saying that as soon as the public finances allow, we should try to bring rail fares down and that we should keep the price rises to a minimum in the meantime.

But I also believe that we need to put our railways on a sustainable footing. They need investment and they need it for the long-term, which is why, after years of chronic under-investment, and despite the huge public deficit, we are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian era.  Be it the extensive electrification of swathes of the rail network, High Speed 2, completion of the Northern hub or some 1,200 new carriages for the Thameslink line.

I’ll be working with the rail industry to make sure that in investing in our railways, the burden is shared fairly between passengers and the railway companies. But at a time of economic difficulties, let’s point to this announcement as good news rail story with our stamp on it.

* Norman Baker is the MP for Lewes, a Minister of State at the Home Office and formerly Minister in the Department of Transport

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  • In this area we are desperate to see the Burscough Curves restored. A small investment that would bring significant economic reward. Any hope?

  • “I’ll be working with the rail industry to make sure that in investing in our railways, the burden is shared fairly between passengers and the railway companies. ”

    Everything except mentioning the enormous, trumpeting elephant in the room: the utter failure of private ownership of our railways.

    I tackled Vince Cable about this once at a meeting in my constituency but he simply wouldn’t answer the question: why are we persisting with a system that has failed? We need to move beyond this and the inevitable taunts that “you’ll simply recreate BR” (even though BR actually provided better value for money than what we have now and most of its defects were due to underfunding).

    What we need is to look at other countries like, for example Switzerland, where nationally owned railways work well and propose that as a solution, not this persistence with a rotten, useless private/public partnership model that is just swallowing up public cash while providing appalling value for money.

  • Agree 150% with RC on this – we have been far too timid on renationalisation. Norman, you have the reputation as a “doer”, just give your colleagues a shake on this one. We want economic movement, please!

  • I would even go as far as to say that this is one point where we could differentiate ourselves very firmly from the Tories and outflank Labour. Under current circumstances (franchises up in the air on major routes), nationalisation of rail operations needn’t cost much or indeed any money and would be a HUGE vote winner.

    We just need to start the ball rolling, say with Vince Cable visiting Switzerland and saying we need to look at how they do things as regards rail.

  • @ Liberal Eye

    “Then there is the example of the Directly Operated Railways (DOR), the government company that has run the East Coast mainline since franchisees GNER and then National Express proved unable to do so. It recently reported outstanding results, turnover up 4.5%, operating profits up 7%, passenger numbers up 2.1%, passenger satisfaction up 2.1% and on top of that made service payments of £195.7 million to the DfT.”

    Because politicians in all three big parties are afraid to challenge economic orthodoxy, no one dares call time on the current position despite mounting and undeniable evidence like this that state ownership, under the right conditions, can actually work better. As Lib Dems, we should be entirely agnostic about the economic effects of state ownership, neither presuming for or against. If public railways work better than private, we should be advocating them.

    Come on Clegg and Cable. Now is the time to show some courage and break the three party conspiracy on rail renationalisation.

  • >we have been far too timid on renationalisation
    We don’t really want to re-nationalise the railways as all we’ll end up with (once again) is a network suffering from under investment due to the treasury always wanting more and a bunch of politicians unable to make a decision on how the railways should operate. Remember it is largely because of the Treasury skimming off the profits and political interference that the Post Office is now a shell of what it once was and opportunities for growth were missed.

    >Then there is the example of the Directly Operated Railways (DOR)
    I do wonder whether we are being too timid and not being more ambitious with social/community interest enterprises. These provide room for commercial operation, at arms length from the politicians and civil servants, whilst also helping to limit the profits that exit the business.

  • I worked in Tokyo for a few years and it was common amomg employers there to pay the cost of pubic transport to staff (free of tax) with their monthly salary.

    Such a tax change change in the UK could provide for two quick wins:

    1. Eliminate the need for any continuing taxpayer subsidies to rail companies.
    2. Significantly reduce the real (Net of tax) costs of rail and bus fares to commuters, even after allowing for potential gross fare increases by operators to make up for the loss of general taxpayer subsidies. It may also encoourage more companies to adopt the living wage standards

  • Tom Snowdon 10th Oct '12 - 9:21am

    What needs to be done is for rail operations to be taken back into public ownership as the current franchises expire. As Liberal Eye points out the model of public ownership should be one at arms length from the government, not a re-hash of old style nationalization. It should be managed and directed by staff from the private rail industry, rather than Whitehall civil servants. This is a real opportunity to have a clear policy difference with the Tories and Labour, which would be popular with the train travelling public.

  • @Liberal Eye
    Yes Jon Hunt’s post ( )did point a spotlight on a key problem in government. I would hesitate saying it was an ‘institutional’ problem, but the problem does seem to be widespread within government. I would like to think that by setting up DOR and operating it the way it is currently, the DoT are trying to change; time will tell…

    Additionally, we shouldn’t forget about the attitudes and behaviours of unions in nationalised industries, as I’m not convinced that they have changed or actually want to change…

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