How critical is the return of passengers and busy trains for railway jobs?

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43096

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I think that as a society we have to remember that the passenger numbers of the last few years have been unusually high.

A fall between 10 - 40% would at worst bring numbers back to where they were in the early noughties. If we thought the railway was worth supporting then, it's worth supporting now.
The problem the railway has is that even with increasing passenger numbers costs continue to rise with no sign of anyone getting a grip on it: there appears to be an assumption that that’s ok and the magic taxpayer money tree will continue regardless.

This month’s Modern Railways has an example. Fleet costs have risen by over 80% in the last 5 years due largely to all those shiny new trains. Perhaps they’re not such good value compared to the “rip off” ROSCO fleets after all.
 
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Starmill

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Pre-railway I worked at a company where we frequently travelled from the NE to London, and nobody ever paid that much and we always booked advanced tickets with padded time for flexibility. It's a choice by your company and its senior employees to spend those kind of sums.
Padded time? So you'd expect people to let several trains go after a full day of work, facing a three hour plus journey home? Glad I didn't work there.

If you can work in Standard class on Manchester to London you can get a peak 'Advance' single for £100 - £150, or it's £184.70 for thr flexible option. Very costly however one looks at it.
 

HSTEd

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This month’s Modern Railways has an example. Fleet costs have risen by over 80% in the last 5 years due largely to all those shiny new trains. Perhaps they’re not such good value compared to the “rip off” ROSCO fleets after all.

Nah, just brand new rip off fleets are even more expensive than older ripoff fleets.

The issue with this is that a car journey often appears cheaper than a rail trip when you count just fuel, especially when going as a group. But if you take into account tax, parking (some of which might be home permits), MOT, insurance, maintenance, the cost of congestion and the wider disbenefits to the environment annualised then it becomes a different story. But most people don't think like that.

The problem is you are expecting a fully amortised cost for every single journey, which isn't realistic either.

Ultimately the only costs on the marginal car journey are fuel, marginal brake and other wear and tear, and marginal insurance.

These are far closer to marginal fuel costs than some sort of hypothetical fully amortised cost structure. Since people are not going to give up car ownership entirely.
 

SuperNova

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Padded time? So you'd expect people to let several trains go after a full day of work, facing a three hour plus journey home? Glad I didn't work there.
Usually an hour. Finish early go to the pub with my fellow colleague who was on the trip. Glad I did work there.
 

philosopher

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I think that as a society we have to remember that the passenger numbers of the last few years have been unusually high.

A fall between 10 - 40% would at worst bring numbers back to where they were in the early noughties. If we thought the railway was worth supporting then, it's worth supporting now.
In the seventies and eighties passenger numbers were less than half todays and even then it was pretty much agreed that the railways needed to be supported.
 

yorksrob

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BUT, the biggest chunk of revenue will need to come back for the railway to have a sustainable future. The current situation isn't sustainable.

Agreed, the current situation isn't sustainable and a chunk of that revenue will need to come back. And it will, but it won't be as much as before. As a society we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In an era where people will have more choice over when and how to travel, the industry will need to work harder to attract them. That means competitive and convenient pricing.

In the seventies and eighties passenger numbers were less than half todays and even then it was pretty much agreed that the railways needed to be supported.

Indeed. The social and economic need for the railway network hasn't gone away, even if some of the revenue has.

The problem the railway has is that even with increasing passenger numbers costs continue to rise with no sign of anyone getting a grip on it: there appears to be an assumption that that’s ok and the magic taxpayer money tree will continue regardless.

This month’s Modern Railways has an example. Fleet costs have risen by over 80% in the last 5 years due largely to all those shiny new trains. Perhaps they’re not such good value compared to the “rip off” ROSCO fleets after all.

Well, the Government designed the franchising process which led to all the shiny new trains. Yes, some were needed but not all. The 321's in Yorkshire as an example had nothing wrong with them.
 

SuperNova

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In an era where people will have more choice over when and how to travel, the industry will need to work harder to attract them. That means competitive and convenient pricing.
An the obvious place to start is flexible season tickets. Which the DfT have been dragging out for several years. I have a friend who has just moved into a semi-rural area right next to a rail station and will commute to Leeds when he starts his new job - he'll be in the office 4 days a week max, ideally 3. Full season ticket will mean driving is more economic (unless Leeds adopts the proposed clean air zone).

Additionally, I wonder if inter-city and regional inter-city operators can offer an equivalent to Eurostar's Business Premier offering? Flexibility for business travellers who require it, while still paying a fair premium.
 

yorksrob

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An the obvious place to start is flexible season tickets. Which the DfT have been dragging out for several years. I have a friend who has just moved into a semi-rural area right next to a rail station and will commute to Leeds when he starts his new job - he'll be in the office 4 days a week max, ideally 3. Full season ticket will mean driving is more economic (unless Leeds adopts the proposed clean air zone).

Additionally, I wonder if inter-city and regional inter-city operators can offer an equivalent to Eurostar's Business Premier offering? Flexibility for business travellers who require it, while still paying a fair premium.

The other thing is the over-reliance on advance purchase to get a decent fare. Yes, flexibility should have a premium but this seems like too much in some areas.
 

Horizon22

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Another option includes cancelling HS2...if long distance and business rail travel isn't going to return to anything like what it was, then why on earth spend billions on a project like this instead of supporting the existing network?

HS2 is for the next 50+ years. This will change national transport considerably and take modal share away from flights. It's not entirely relevant to this discussion.
 

NoRoute

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A good point often missed - commuting isn't always "dead time". You can do work on a long distance journey and hell even a commute allows people to read a book, catch up on emails, listen to music, do some research or whatever. It's a disconnect from being switched on from the 1st minute at home.

Having tried working while travelling by train a number of times I think currently it's better in theory than practice. It starts badly at the station where seating provision in many stations is often really poor and insufficient, not conducive to working, some stations have facilities on a par with a bus stop, not even a tin roof to keep the rain off while waiting on the platform. Consistent provision of sufficient seating and waiting areas would go along way to improve the initial part of the journey.

Then on the train you're lucky if you can get a table, while most seats are angled and spaced such that setting up your laptop on the drop down table isn't good but it's about the same as balancing it on your lap. It really needs the seats re-designing, building in a fold out working surface, like you get in conference rooms, to give you a working surface over your lap to sit your laptop or book, papers etc.

With a few tweaks the railways could be quite good for working on the move.
 

43066

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I can assure you that my professional experience, over decades, across the UK, allows me to have a wider view of the issues than your decade in the City of London (totally unrepresentative of the UK as a whole).
You need to get out and about a lot more!

For the record I mean proper, actual, city professionals. Think magic circle law firm and investment banking types, who went to proper universities. I’d suggest my professional experience is more representative than yours of the kind of people who commute to central London offices. Unless your “pan U.K.” experience is more useful?

As for getting out more, I’ve been around the block a few dozen times, I can assure you. I’d also suggest that many rail journeys outside of the southeast are made by day trippers and those will be coming back even more rapidly than commuters.


Im a computer techie. I dont need to be in the office most of the time, I am just doing techie stuff on a computer. So 75% of my time I am not interacting, maybe more.

That’s an unusual example of a job that is extremely well paid yet requires little interaction with others. You guys have the golden ticket in that respect. I’d suggest it’s not representative of most office based jobs paying anything like the same amount, though.

(You have something in common with train drivers there!)


I’m sure there’s plenty of people who are able to do their full workload at home. But for every one of those I bet there’s another who is currently at home and only carrying out those elements of work which are practicable to do at home, and hoping they can permanently shelve the remaining elements of work.

Indeed.

Anyone who has done a sensibly paid office job realises the value of face to face interaction.

And, in my case at least, also realises the value of a job where they will never have to interact with colleagues/public ever again.
 
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philosopher

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Having tried working while travelling by train a number of times I think currently it's better in theory than practice. It starts badly at the station where seating provision in many stations is often really poor and insufficient, not conducive to working, some stations have facilities on a par with a bus stop, not even a tin roof to keep the rain off while waiting on the platform. Consistent provision of sufficient seating and waiting areas would go along way to improve the initial part of the journey.

Then on the train you're lucky if you can get a table, while most seats are angled and spaced such that setting up your laptop on the drop down table isn't good but it's about the same as balancing it on your lap. It really needs the seats re-designing, building in a fold out working surface, like you get in conference rooms, to give you a working surface over your lap to sit your laptop or book, papers etc.

With a few tweaks the railways could be quite good for working on the move.
Putting decent sized fold down tables in airline style seats would be a start.
 

Andrew1395

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So observations from my experience. My boss says he ain’t going to spend two hours travelling on the train to central London to then sit in an open plan office to zoom/teams others. If everyone is in he is going in. If not then he will save the four hours travelling a day thank you very much! That seems to me the critical factor. The work patterns based on the assumption that everyone “goes in” to work have now been shattered.

some people will want to go in everyday, use the printer, go to the pub with mates after 6pm. But for many they will reluctantly plod in.

My employer last summer reconfigured the office. From a 300 everyone with their own space to 140 desk everyone hot desks. even assuming for all reasons, (holidays, sickness, other reasons away from workplace) absence at 25% that still means 85 staff who will have to work elsewhere every day.

my director says that he is fed up sitting in front of a screen all day and is desperate to get back to the office. Strange that. As the overwhelming majority of his directorate used to sit in front of a screen all day in the office. For many of us the option to sit in front of a screen at home has plenty of advantages over repeating that experience after travelling to the office on the train. It’s not so much the cost, at my age, it’s the time and weariness of travelling that I don’t relish.

Commuting to work of course generates other work related journeys. Travelling to other organisations workplaces, etc. So fewer people travelling to work will further suppress work related train journeys.

one quick way finance directors react to savings is to cut business travel. Many businesses will be under pressure once government support across the economy winds down.

my brother has been given the option of 100% in the office, a blend or 100% work from home. All three options are to result in new contracts of employment. One consequence is on the use (and value) of company cars and travel allowances. And for two of the options, reductions and removal of territorial allowances (London weighting).
These factors may also impact the number and routines of travel for work.

I can’t see how these reactions to the pandemic and changes to work. That will have seen us spend at least 15 months working remotely by the time the office reopens. Won’t also be reflected in the office based jobs of rail industry businesses.

on leisure travel, that could boom in the summer and plummet like a stone if we have a resurgence of the disease on the run up to Christmas. Winter outbreaks could be the norm for several years to come.

and then of course Covid is only one of the disrupters to the uk economy. We have several years ahead of adjusting to the new world outside of the EU; the emergence of economies in the east disrupting North American and European commerce Those may hit the city of London and the 500,000 workers who used to work their hard over the next few years.

overall I can see all uk city centres declining economically in the short term and suburbs maybe growing. That will
put many rail flows under pressure. Fewer work related trips, fewer trips to retail and leisure in city centres.

People are not going to use trains for their summer holiday journeys if they have a car. its stressful enough taking kids and luggage on a package holiday. Two cars to Skegness or a Cornwall branch. One car up to the Peak District ain’t going to cut it.

overseas tourists flocking to the uk? Not this year. Trips to Bicester Village or the tour of ancestral highlands put off to the future.

none of this looks to me like a return to a pre March 2020 passenger railway. Maybe a summer boom as the spring of lockdown is released, but will the key september to December quarter see travel return to pre pandemic patterns? I doubt it.

So the rail industry, soon to be in the clutches of the treasury, may respond by slashing non front line jobs. it’s the quickest way to make savings. It may accelerate investment toward technologies to automate retailing, reducing some front line roles, but increase others.
 
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Wolfie

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On the contrary, demanding more money while failing in a large way to make use of what you've already got is a very speedy route out of the door. Indeed, that's pretty much what the industry has been doing, for some time now.
That l agree with. But HMT rarely say do more with the same resources, far more do the same with less!
 

Ianno87

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Padded time? So you'd expect people to let several trains go after a full day of work, facing a three hour plus journey home? Glad I didn't work there.

Or, as I'd see it, "excuse to go to the pub"
 

43066

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Or, as I'd see it, "excuse to go to the pub"

You’d think, so wouldn’t you!? Not necessarily on here, as I’ve learned.

For immediate relevance to the thread, lots of us take the train to get to the pub, too. Especially when we are between cars...
 

L401CJF

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Not sure how it compares to everywhere else, but I've been on Merseyrail tonight and been on some pretty busy trains, even had to stand up before and that was at 2030! Everything seemed to have pretty healthy loads , the busiest I've seen the network since March last year.

Even had 2 revenue checks onboard!
 

bramling

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Give me a couple of hours on a train, and I can get SO MUCH done as the country rolls by.



BUT, the biggest chunk of revenue will need to come back for the railway to have a sustainable future. The current situation isn't sustainable.



What debt? Do you mean the deficit between costs and revenue.?



Rail definitely needs to "know its value" and not undercharged for flows where it has the biggest competitive advantage.




We don't know that for a fact, and contractually HS2 would cost nearly as much to cancel at this point as it would to get built.

in HS2's favour, with people going into the office less often, it may mean people living further away, but only travelling 1-2 days per week. Which is right up HS2's street.

The trouble with doing a fares hike, is that most people already find many rail fares expensive, especially walk-up ones. Whether this is a reasonable view is a matter for debate, however jacking up fares is quite likely to alienate a lot of people.

Take London to Manchester. Last time I did this it was about £80, and that was with a PRIV, so the normal fare would be four times that. Now of course there’s loads of advance-type fares which means that few people on the train would be paying hundreds of pounds, however take those away and anyone who can drive now will, and an element of the remainder may well not make the journey at all.

It’s a difficult problem to solve, especially as cutting services doesn’t make that much of a saving.
 

the sniper

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People are not going to use trains for their summer holiday journeys if they have a car. its stressful enough taking kids and luggage on a package holiday. Two cars to Skegness or a Cornwall branch. One car up to the Peak District ain’t going to cut it.

The (apparently) empty trains might appeal once people experience the gridlocked roads caused by the jet set generation heading back to the old faithful UK holiday destinations of yore...
 

43066

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The trouble with doing a fares hike, is that most people already find many rail fares expensive, especially walk-up ones. Whether this is a reasonable view is a matter for debate, however jacking up fares is quite likely to alienate a lot of people.

You also have to also ask, is there a case for sweating the market, and jacking the fares up to the maximum the market could bear?!

Maybe then we could smarten the place up a tad? Let’s get some high quality people onto the trains we operate, rather then the low income dross we currently convey?
 

bramling

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You also have to also ask, is there a case for sweating the market, and jacking the fares up to the maximum the market could bear?!

Maybe then we could smarten the place up a tad? Let’s get some high quality people onto the trains we operate, rather then the low income dross we currently convey?

It’s interesting you’ve had this thought, as similar has crossed my mind. There’s a lot of talk here about how “leisure travel” will lead any rail usage revival, however I’m not sure how true this, when we consider that a lot of such travel is (1) short distance, (2) low fare, and (3) quite dependent on factors like season or weather.

Surely going for what remaining level of the business market is available is the way to go. There’s still plenty who would be open to switching from car to rail in the right circumstances.
 

HSTEd

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HS2 is for the next 50+ years. This will change national transport considerably and take modal share away from flights. It's not entirely relevant to this discussion.

It is also cheaper for the railway, and thus the state, for passengers to use HS2 rather than conventional lines, even before we consider the speed it is capable of attracting additional traffic.

Additionally, if we are in a reduced traffic situation, there are quite a few track and service rationalisations that HS2 allows us to make.

(For example, we could axe the Northampton avoiding line, and the Stone-Colwich line)
 

Purple Orange

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You also have to also ask, is there a case for sweating the market, and jacking the fares up to the maximum the market could bear?!

Maybe then we could smarten the place up a tad? Let’s get some high quality people onto the trains we operate, rather then the low income dross we currently convey?

Lol. Go on, define ‘quality’ and ‘dross’ in this context for us all.
 

SuperNova

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So the rail industry, soon to be in the clutches of the treasury, may respond by slashing non front line jobs. it’s the quickest way to make savings. It may accelerate investment toward technologies to automate retailing, reducing some front line roles, but increase others.
Which non-front line jobs are on the chopping board?

There will be some need for booking office staff, especially if focus goes towards best practice of customer service (which it should), those who aren't comfortable with technology still use them and it's always good to speak to someone if you're unsure RE tickets. Station staff would still be required, they pay for themselves in revenue protection and customer help. Where else? Head office - I'm not sure how many jobs you can slash there because when it has happened in the past, mistakes are made as people end up doing more than they are either skilled to do or have the capacity to do. More technology means more IT work. Maybe some marketing roles? But even then there should be a massive push on getting people back on rail.

I hate to say it, but I think it will be the complete opposite, especially if patronage decreases. Say it goes own 20-25%, there will be service cuts and the DfT will certainly look at reducing rest day working, it's all but banned at the moment. TOC's already have drivers/conductors sitting at home doing nothing and they are a significant outlay of money - what's the average wage for a driver? 55k, without extras. Conductors? 30k, again without extras. If, and when, there are service cuts - they're the ones that will be hit. There simply won't be the work for them.
 

birchesgreen

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I think the railways will be largely fine though I suspect the new rolling stock conveyor belt will start to stutter and stop. We were already heading to too many factories and not enough orders, we'll reach that point a bit sooner than previously thought.
 

Ianno87

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Putting decent sized fold down tables in airline style seats would be a start.

Some trains are already good for this; 387s and IETs are my personal favourites.


The trouble with doing a fares hike, is that most people already find many rail fares expensive, especially walk-up ones. Whether this is a reasonable view is a matter for debate, however jacking up fares is quite likely to alienate a lot of people.

Take London to Manchester. Last time I did this it was about £80, and that was with a PRIV, so the normal fare would be four times that. Now of course there’s loads of advance-type fares which means that few people on the train would be paying hundreds of pounds, however take those away and anyone who can drive now will, and an element of the remainder may well not make the journey at all.

It’s a difficult problem to solve, especially as cutting services doesn’t make that much of a saving.

Not necessarily 'jacking up' fares, but resisting downward pressure on them (e.g. quite a few Twittereres saying how it's "obvious" fares should be reduce to stimulate demand - I disagree in most cases, at least on any kind of permanent basis)

There will be some need for booking office staff, especially if focus goes towards best practice of customer service (which it should), those who aren't comfortable with technology still use them and it's always good to speak to someone if you're unsure RE tickets.

What if the station platform staff were properly trained and knowledgeable in tickets? They don't need to be sat in a room behind a window to be useful in that respect.
 

yorksrob

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So observations from my experience. My boss says he ain’t going to spend two hours travelling on the train to central London to then sit in an open plan office to zoom/teams others. If everyone is in he is going in. If not then he will save the four hours travelling a day thank you very much! That seems to me the critical factor. The work patterns based on the assumption that everyone “goes in” to work have now been shattered.

some people will want to go in everyday, use the printer, go to the pub with mates after 6pm. But for many they will reluctantly plod in.

My employer last summer reconfigured the office. From a 300 everyone with their own space to 140 desk everyone hot desks. even assuming for all reasons, (holidays, sickness, other reasons away from workplace) absence at 25% that still means 85 staff who will have to work elsewhere every day.

my director says that he is fed up sitting in front of a screen all day and is desperate to get back to the office. Strange that. As the overwhelming majority of his directorate used to sit in front of a screen all day in the office. For many of us the option to sit in front of a screen at home has plenty of advantages over repeating that experience after travelling to the office on the train. It’s not so much the cost, at my age, it’s the time and weariness of travelling that I don’t relish.

Commuting to work of course generates other work related journeys. Travelling to other organisations workplaces, etc. So fewer people travelling to work will further suppress work related train journeys.

one quick way finance directors react to savings is to cut business travel. Many businesses will be under pressure once government support across the economy winds down.

my brother has been given the option of 100% in the office, a blend or 100% work from home. All three options are to result in new contracts of employment. One consequence is on the use (and value) of company cars and travel allowances. And for two of the options, reductions and removal of territorial allowances (London weighting).
These factors may also impact the number and routines of travel for work.

I can’t see how these reactions to the pandemic and changes to work. That will have seen us spend at least 15 months working remotely by the time the office reopens. Won’t also be reflected in the office based jobs of rail industry businesses.

on leisure travel, that could boom in the summer and plummet like a stone if we have a resurgence of the disease on the run up to Christmas. Winter outbreaks could be the norm for several years to come.

and then of course Covid is only one of the disrupters to the uk economy. We have several years ahead of adjusting to the new world outside of the EU; the emergence of economies in the east disrupting North American and European commerce Those may hit the city of London and the 500,000 workers who used to work their hard over the next few years.

overall I can see all uk city centres declining economically in the short term and suburbs maybe growing. That will
put many rail flows under pressure. Fewer work related trips, fewer trips to retail and leisure in city centres.

People are not going to use trains for their summer holiday journeys if they have a car. its stressful enough taking kids and luggage on a package holiday. Two cars to Skegness or a Cornwall branch. One car up to the Peak District ain’t going to cut it.

overseas tourists flocking to the uk? Not this year. Trips to Bicester Village or the tour of ancestral highlands put off to the future.

none of this looks to me like a return to a pre March 2020 passenger railway. Maybe a summer boom as the spring of lockdown is released, but will the key september to December quarter see travel return to pre pandemic patterns? I doubt it.

So the rail industry, soon to be in the clutches of the treasury, may respond by slashing non front line jobs. it’s the quickest way to make savings. It may accelerate investment toward technologies to automate retailing, reducing some front line roles, but increase others.

Interesting points, and I agree that there will be a smaller passenger base than previously. However, I have a couple of observations:

  • Even if COVID does lead to winter surges for several years, I don't think there will be a tolerance for large scale restrictions/closures on a regular basis. Proplr will still want to travel to see friends and family and will do so.
  • Families with small children will indeed not struggle on the train with luggage if they have a car. However this has always been the case. This is not the main market for longer distance leisure travel.
 

Philip

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Some trains are already good for this; 387s and IETs are my personal favourites.




Not necessarily 'jacking up' fares, but resisting downward pressure on them (e.g. quite a few Twittereres saying how it's "obvious" fares should be reduce to stimulate demand - I disagree in most cases, at least on any kind of permanent basis)



What if the station platform staff were properly trained and knowledgeable in tickets? They don't need to be sat in a room behind a window to be useful in that respect.

You could argue that they do. It's not a rocket science job but it's not always the piece of cake job some seem to think; needing to think on your feet; planning journeys for people; selling the correct ticket in a complex fares structure; handling disruption well. To do the job efficiently wouldn't be as practical on the platform.

I don't think guards are overpaid, but drivers will need to take a substantial pay cut before any compulsory redundancies within railway; particularly those who work for Avanti, LU and similar. As mentioned RDW can be cut first too.
 
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bramling

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Some trains are already good for this; 387s and IETs are my personal favourites.




Not necessarily 'jacking up' fares, but resisting downward pressure on them (e.g. quite a few Twittereres saying how it's "obvious" fares should be reduce to stimulate demand - I disagree in most cases, at least on any kind of permanent basis)



What if the station platform staff were properly trained and knowledgeable in tickets? They don't need to be sat in a room behind a window to be useful in that respect.

I suspect any notion of reducing fares is going to prove academic - I can’t see that happening.

I’d say price rises are going to happen across society as a whole, and the railway won’t be any different from that. No doubt someone will be looking at the sums to see whether it’s better to charge one person a fortune for a journey and leave some seats empty, or filling them all with advance-type tickets.
 

yorksrob

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I suspect any notion of reducing fares is going to prove academic - I can’t see that happening.

I’d say price rises are going to happen across society as a whole, and the railway won’t be any different from that. No doubt someone will be looking at the sums to see whether it’s better to charge one person a fortune for a journey and leave some seats empty, or filling them all with advance-type tickets.

The optics of the situation will also need to be considered, particularly as Government is so closely involved in managing the railway.

Charging silly amounts of money whilst half the train remains empty looks a lot worse.
 
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