UK railways 'last in Europe league'

Train in the snowBritain's railways are at the bottom of the league for fares, efficiency and comfort compared with other European countries, according to a union-commissioned study.

The report by think-tank Just Economics said UK rail services were less affordable, less comfortable, slower, more inefficient and more expensive than in other European countries.
The frequency of trains was the only area in which the UK performed better than France, Germany, Spain and Italy, according to the research.

"In terms of bang for buck, not only does the UK come bottom of the index of outcomes but it also spends a relatively large amount of money to achieve this woeful result. This means that it also comes bottom of the value for money league," said the report.

"Our under-performing railways carry a considerable cost both for passengers and for the public purse. Our calculations show that a more affordable, more comfortable and faster railway would generate a staggering £324 billion in social value (£9.2 billion a year) between now and 2050. This is the equivalent of £7 of value per average journey in that period.

"We also estimate that the social, economic and environmental benefits of achieving a modal shift from road to rail - in terms of reduced congestion, accidents and emissions - could potentially reach £154.8 billion by 2050. When we combine this estimate with our previous figures showing improved outcomes for passengers, we calculate that the total social value of the strategic shift that we propose in this report is in the region of £479 billion."

The report was released ahead of the Government's response to the McNulty review on the future of the railways, which is expected to be published shortly.

Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, which commissioned the study, said: "This latest research shows that the failures of privatisation are costing the UK hundreds of billions of pounds in social value. Instead of addressing that issue and looking at the cheaper and socially beneficial alternative of a publicly owned railway, McNulty proposes more cuts and even longer gold-plated franchises for the private train operators. Now McNulty and the train operators want to roll that model out across Europe, smashing up rail services from the North Sea to the Mediterranean."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Unions are right to highlight the cost of railways and that also means looking objectively at Sir Roy McNulty's conclusions which set out how this needs to be done. We will shortly announce plans which will deliver a better value railway for the benefit of passengers, taxpayers and the wider economy. We hope unions will work with us on this."

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "This doesn't come close to giving the full story about rail travel. Decades of decline on the railways have been reversed since privatisation, with passenger numbers, satisfaction and punctuality all close to or at record levels thanks to the time and money invested in improving services."
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