Philip Hammond’s comment that today’s railways are a “rich man’s toy” caused a flurry of press coverage about HS2 and the railways. Here’s just a few of the things they said:
Express: FURY AS MINISTER ADMITS FARES MAKE RAILWAYS ‘A RICH MAN’S TOY’
“He spoke to the Transport Select Committee following his approval of the hikes – which put season tickets up by eight to 13 per cent from January.
“And there was outrage as he claimed rail passengers can afford it because they have higher-than-average incomes.”
The Metro: Rail prices are so high, trains are now a ‘rich man’s toy’ – transport minister:
“Campaigners from rail workers’ union TSSA were yesterday pushing leaflets through the doors of Mr Hammond’s neighbours in Pimlico, London, and held up placards reading: ‘I’m Alright Jag.’
“While Mr Hammond told the commons transport committee some fares were high, he insisted others were ‘really quite reasonable if you dig around and use the advance purchasing ticket options that are available’.
“Passengers buying a turn-up-and-go ‘anytime’ return ticket between London and Manchester are charged £279 for the two-hour journey. Tickets bought in advance can cost as little as £61.”
Huffington Post: Philip Hammond: Trains Are A ‘Rich Man’s Toy’
“It is unlikely that the socio-economic make-up of passengers would be much different on the new HS2 line between London and Birmingham than the West Coast Main Line, he told MPs.”
Yorkshire Telegraph: Minister confirms North faces a long wait for fast rail
“But he rejected calls for the project to be speeded up, saying that building the high-speed network – which would cut journey times from Leeds to London by up to 50 minutes at a cost of £32bn – more quickly would take money away from other transport schemes.”
Coventry Telegraph: Transport secretary Philip Hammond backs HS2 plans (includes picture of us outside Parliament)
Sir Brian Briscoe, chairman of HS2 Ltd: “he said HS2 Ltd had not been tasked with looking at transport alternatives.
“When asked if the line could go slower than 250mph to allow it to miss more properties and valued countryside, the chief engineer insisted 250mph was only a top speed.”
The Mirror: Transport Secretary Philip Hammond admits trains are a luxury for rich
“Mr Hammond, worth an estimated £9million, was giving evidence to the Commons Transport committee about the High Speed Rail network.”
PS Is Philip Hammond envious of our Christmas present to David Cameron last year – a toy-sized toy train.
Sadly the coverage of the Transport Select Committee demonstrates yet again the shallowness of the British media, concentrating on Philip Hammond’s comment about trains being a “rich man’s toy” whilst failing to spot the real issues that should have come out of what was said.
Take for example John Leach MP’s questioning on the fare structure. According to the responses given by Alison Munro, HS2’s Chief Executive, HS2 passengers will be able to turn up and pay when they want to travel, being no different from the existing rail system. A fairly innocuous statement perhaps, though the insistence of Mr Leach’s questioning might have suggested that this was more important than it might appear. And indeed it is, because on 30th September 2010, the HS2 Analytical Challenge Panel was told by HS2 that “HS2’s seats would be mostly reserved”. [See http://www.hs2.org.uk/assets/x/78436 para 1.5]. Rather than being able to just turn up and pay, HS2 passengers will mostly have to book in advance. Again, this might sound fairly innocuous, and simply a way to guarantee passengers a seat but in reality this means passengers could be losing out on the time savings that HS2 claims. Take business travellers, who are at the core of HS2’s business case: it easy to decide when to travel outward for a meeting as the start time is usually firmly decided, yet the ending of a meeting is never so well fixed. Meetings can easily over-run plus there is always that “after meeting” period with informal discussions that can often be when real decisions can be made. When deciding on the return trip a business traveller is therefore faced with a dilemma of when their return journey will begin, which usually ends in having to over-estimate the time delay rather than risk missing an earlier train entirely. The alternative “classic rail” service where you can just turn up and ride therefore becomes more attractive, and could quite easily get the business traveller back home sooner than if they had waited for the quicker HS2 service. When pressed by John Leach over the impact of HS2 running a system where tickets had to purchased in advance and the effect this would have on passenger numbers Sir Brian Briscoe, HS2’s Chairman, admitted that they had not done the work on this. This is a pity, given it is almost a year since they told the Analytical Challenge Panel that this was how HS2 was going to operate.
HS2 further shot themselves in the foot when Sir Brian Briscoe, claimed that the business case was not affected by the fare charged for the rail service. According to Sir Brian, the level of fare is “a tactical matter managing the railways”, in other words prices are pushed up merely to regulate the level of crowding and not because the rail companies actually need the money. Given Philip Hammond’s subsequent comments on the cost of rail fares, it is surprising that this admission was not picked up on.
Taking Sir Brian’s argument to its logical conclusion: with the addition of HS2 we would get additional capacity in the rail system; with more capacity there will be less crowding; with less crowding there will be less need for the fares to be used to “manage the railways”; and therefore there can be a reduction in rail fares. Philip Hammond should therefore be able to proudly announce that with HS2 the railways will be less of a rich man’s toy – assuming he actually believes what Sir Brian says.
Sir Brian also managed to dig himself into a hole when questioned by Paul Maynard MP about the importance of journey time. According to Sir Brian the need for a high speed network is because “journey time is the factor that determines demand”. Apparently Sir Brian seems to have missed out on the fact that the bulk of the benefits claimed by HS2 are from the time savings created by HS2, due to its shorter journey times, and this is why the high speed is crucial. Given all the debate over rail passengers’ values of time you might have thought that this issue would be readily apparent to anyone involved with HS2. The addition of HS2 is supposedly aimed at coping with future demand and not, as Sir Brian would appear to think, creating more demand.
Hopefully someone more junior in the HS2 organisation can help explain matters to those in charge and the media might want to take a bit more time and thought before writing their headlines.
Some excellent points Paul
Also am I correct that 70% of HS2 travel is forecast to be leisure travel–
if so where are they all forecast to be going and how many leisure travellers will book in advance
Looking through “The Economic Case for HS2” [surely this should simply be “The Case for HS2” or are there other documents?] they say (para 3.3.13) “Faster journeys would attract more business travel in the UK overall. However, the majority of HS2 journeys (70%) would be made by people travelling for other reasons, with leisure trips likely to be particularly important.” [So here was have Sir Brian’s shorter journey times creating demand rather than simply reducing congestion.] As they say leisure trips are “likely to be particularly important” presumably HS2 don’t know themselves. This 70% would also include commuters (does anyone know any better information). “Leisure” would also cover all manner of travel, it probably just means they aren’t travelling because of work (i.e. not business travellers and not commuters). The term “Leisure travellers” may be being used to conjure up positive images like people popping off to Heathrow prior to jetting to somewhere exotic. They could just as well be unemployed people travelling to London looking for work though (perhaps making the most of Sir Brian’s cheap fares).
With regard to fares, I bought a”walk on” return ticket valid for a month from Banbury to Dunblane in Scotland.
Neither the train nor the route was specified and I was free to use either East or West Coast or Cross Country services and any local trains as I chose and to break my journey en route without penalty or time restriction.
The fare was just over £120, discounted to £81 with a rail card.
Probably I could have got a cheaper fare had I chosen to specify a particular train for each part of the journey each way, but then I should have paid dearly for any variations and “wrong” connections. In fact I “saved” time by catching a late running train at Newcastle with which my previous train wasn’t due to connect.
Compared with local bus fares, the afternoon train last Friday from Charlbury to Worcester costing about £13 return /£8.70 with a rail card, seemed reasonable -and the newly restored double track will ensure a much more reliable regular service with the chance of further improvements in the future,along this route once threatened with closure.
I think that, for too many people, it may be unfamiliarity and a perception that rail fares are “too expensive” that gives them the impression that rail travel is only for the “rich”.
(Oh and before anyone has a go about “Is your leisure journey really necessary?”,I should remind you that every seat filled “off peak”(at virtually no cost to the operator) and every pound so spent helps to cross subsidise the costs of providing for essential rush hour services!)
My partner travels around the country on weekdays he does not know when he will get to a particular station spends several hours each night searching the best ways to go .sometimes he has to get offand buy a ticket because it is cheaper than buying a ticket for the whole of his journey.the whole thing regarding ticket prices is rediculous and totally unfair to people visiting this country.