Daily rail travel times, Britain and the story of modern train travel

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UK rail travel has never been as glorious as it is today, even with teething problems.

Still, is this really what British rail should be left with? With half of passengers complaining about train delays?

There is a long list of reasons that modern trains are faster and more reliable than those of the past – but passengers say the people in charge of running them deserve a heavy rap for the full extent of the problems that have emerged of late.

Long delays

The day after MPs published their devastating report into delays, they had an email from the managing director of Cross Country rail who pointed out a number of good stories he’d heard.

Then came the news that another crash on the commuter tracks north of London had made things that much worse – and he added that time was running out to fix the faults and have new trains by Christmas.

So how bad is the problem? Some 3,000 services were delayed or cancelled on UK’s rail network every week in February, out of a total of 43 million.

Or how bad is it when the average day starts off worse than it was the previous Friday? The average single passenger journey now takes almost five hours in the south-east of England – and that’s not counting the extra journeys made in coach, by buses or using other modes of transport.

Between 1987 and 2016, the level of delay across the UK doubled. Then between 2009 and 2010, delay doubled again.

There’s been no progress on station cleanliness or wheelchair access since 2007, progress hasn’t been made on speeding since the mid-1990s, journey times have got longer since 1968 and there hasn’t been one year of below one-hour journey times since 1978.

Around a third of people are so fed up they have never set foot on a train again.

Whatever people think of the condition of trains themselves, the politically-correct line is that bad-quality infrastructure is the reason. New tracks were laid in the West Highlands, one of the most important routes to the Highlands, during the First World War.

As we told you at the time, the Scottish Government has said this line will be fully reopened in 2018 – in time for one of the summer tourist season.

But if the North-South railway could be repaired, how quickly would it take? An across-the-board solution would take 18 months, when the country has been short of steam trains for six years.


As we reported in 2015, cash-strapped operators have to pay around £8.5bn to maintain and upgrade the railways over the next 20 years. They have also been asked to pay almost £3bn in order to guarantee that rail could run anywhere in Britain, weekdays and weekends.

Network Rail has an annual £2.5bn budget – far more than any other utility company in the country. With between 10% and 15% of passengers having even less income to spend than rail operators, and with 60% of passengers now using their cars at least some of the time, this has to change.

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