Shropshire Star comment: Getting rail back on track
Whither the nation’s railways? Our expensively constructed rail system is a source of acute embarrassment.
It is second tier and second rate. While such nations as Switzerland, Germany and France boast efficient networks that are more frequently on time, we lag way behind.
Fares are too high, timetables are inefficient, rolling stock is out of date and there are strikes and cancellations, timetable disasters and worse.
While it is easy to dismiss the nation’s railways and ponder that things are unlikely to improve, we are ill-served by accepting the status quo. Other European nations have seen significant improvements to their networks and the question posed is simple: if they can do it, why can’t we?
While our networks are safer than most, the quality of service is among the worst in Europe. In a study of 25 nations, only five had a worse record. It is little short of a disgrace.
And while the magnitude of that statistic causes pause for thought, we can reflect on another worrying fact. Today commuters face an average 3.1 per cent increase in rail fares for a service that doesn’t cut the mustard.
Little wonder many will find it difficult to stomach.
Of course, looming in the background is the HS2 project – an eye-wateringly expensive scheme that promises little in the way of improvement for the vast majority of passengers.
It begs the question, if we have money to invest in our rail network, would it not be more sensible to spend it on the areas already struggling to cope?
Closer to home, we have seen the new operators of the Wales and Border franchise pledge to improve after a very shaky start since taking over from Arriva Trains, while West Midlands Trains have also promised improvements in the coming years.
The government says vast sums have been poured into our railway networks and yet, for all its faults, road transport remains more efficient. A modernised system is not too much to ask.
Passengers will expect to see some real progress in 2019.
Rising fares at a time when services aren’t improving is simply not good enough.