According to new analysis by the Action for Rail, rail fares have risen at double the speed of wages since 2010. They say fares have risen by 25% in the last six years, but average weekly earnings have only gone up by 12% and that dividends paid to shareholders of private train companies have risen to £222m in the last year – an increase of 21%.
The cost of rail fares was key in the economic case for HS2 according to the Department for Transport. When they were working out the Benefit Cost Ratio, they assumed that rail fares on HS2 would be the same as the rest of the rail network, even though HS2 trains would be significantly faster – an assumption described as “bonkers” by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament. With higher fares, than conventional speed trains, fewer people would use HS2 and so the BCR would likely fall, pushing the project well into the low value for money category.
Of course conventional fares in Kent are not the same as HS1 fares. Earlier this year, Kent Online said Maidstone to London season tickets were now £4221 on the conventional speed trains, compared to HS1 season tickets at £5207.
But what these figures hide is that conventional train fares in Kent have risen compared to other services to pay for investment in HS1, even where HS1 isn’t an option for the journey.
It’s worth remembering though what the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said when he was in charge of the Department for Transport: “If you are working in a factory in Manchester you might never get on HS2 but you would certainly be benefiting from it if the sales director from your company is routinely hopping on it to jet round the world from Heathrow”.
Whatever the problems with the rail network, spending £55 billion on HS2 will not be the best way of helping ordinary commuters.