myths and legends
There is a good deal of misinformation floating around. Perhaps it is sometimes caused by the writer's wish to make a particular point, at the expense (now and then) of complete accuracy.
In this section, we try to clear up a few matters.
We’ll start with fares.
The Office of Rail and Road website says that ‘train operators employ a commercial strategy in setting fares’. Hmm. It is certainly true that train operators must make ends meet, but as around half of all fares are regulated by the Government, an operator’s ‘commercial strategy’ is not always a factor.
FACT: Train operators neither gain nor lose when regulated fares are changed by the government in real terms (above inflation), but they do need to consider what the market will bear when deciding the rest.
Are official journey totals true?
The sticking point is the word ‘journey’. The Oxford English Dictionary says it means 'continued course of going or travelling', so that if, for example, you travelled from Lowestoft to Bristol you might well consider that you had made a single journey. But because the modern railway industry counts each train used (or which might have been used) to travel by rail between those (or any other) points, it sometimes records two, three or more ‘journeys’. The result is that the official total of 1.65 billion annually includes ‘statistical inflation’ of about 18 per cent.
Sometimes, the official term ‘journeys’ is innocently translated by third parties (such as the media) into ‘passengers’. This is misleading, because however many trains (’journeys’) are used to get from A to B, only one passenger is involved in each trip. However, a return trip is always counted twice (in other words, as two single trips). But if three trains are used in each direction, the industry will report that six ‘journeys’ have been made.
FACT: The total of complete (start-to-finish) single trips has reached some 1.4 billion annually. That’s still very high. As far as we can tell, that kind of total was only briefly recorded for a few years after the First World War.
Did privatisation improve the railways?
In spite of frequent claims that it did, there is no proof that the sharp increases in passenger traffic since the mid-1990s were caused by abolishing British Rail. Passenger figures rose steadily in the second half of the 1990s, but private sector companies had not made any significant differences (new trains, better stations, more innovative fares) at that early stage. (It is also worth noting that the railways are not wholly privatised.)