Labour’s pledge to cut railway prices and make buying a ticket easier made for pleasant reading for frequent passenger Bill Jamieson, but he fears there may be some leaves on the line ahead.
Few more eye-catching pledges have emerged in the final ten days of the campaign than plans by Labour to slash rail fares by a third and simplify ticket prices for part-time workers. It also wants to make train travel free for under-16s and a central online booking portal with no booking fees.
The cost, estimated at £1.5 billion a year, would be covered by Vehicle Excise Duty – money the Conservatives have earmarked for roads. As a frequent rail passenger between Dunblane and Edinburgh, this was one Labour pledge that came as a pleasant surprise. But it requires other changes to be in place for this commitment to work: more and better rail carriages would be a start, as the service is full at peak-times and I am more often than not having to stand on the journey back.
Station upgrades would also help as many smaller ones are now unmanned and passengers reliant on often out-of-service ticket machines. More efficient up-to-date ticket pricing and marketing would be welcomed.
However, while searching questions have been left over the outsourcing of train services – this after a 40 per cent increase in rail fares since 2010 – I am not convinced that Labour’s re-nationalisation would provide a more customer-friendly service: its plans sound all the more seductive coming as they did in the wake of an announcement of further average train fare rise of 2.7 per cent and yet more industrial action on several lines in the run-up to Christmas and beyond. But I still have vivid memories of the schedule failures, crowded carriages, strikes and disruption that afflicted British Rail throughout the 1970s.
But Scotland is committed to re-nationalisation, the Holyrood administration having announced that bidders wholly owned by the Scottish Government could compete with private firms to run the train service. The parent company of ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne appears likely to be among those bidding for the next contract which begins in 2025. And delivery of those cheaper fares and better ticketing any time soon? Er, beware leaves on the line: think five years.