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Rail companies in England have recently announced that rail fares will increase by an average of 4.1% in 2014, a rate which is significantly above inflation. In Scotland, however, fares are capped at the rate of inflation. Yet despite increases, customers are seeing little, if any, improvements to their rail services and face frequent delays and overcrowding.
It’s a concern that could hit students very hard. With the cost of running a car impractical for thousands of students, many instead rely on trains to travel between home and university, whether on a daily basis or for occasional visits home. In fact, according to the Lancaster Guardian, it’s a trend that is seeing the North West having the highest amount of train journeys completed in a region outside of London. Aidan Turner-Bishop, from the Lancashire group of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Young people are using cars less and less and fewer people are learning to drive, taking lessons and buying cars, because they can’t afford it. A few years ago at the age of 17 you would buy a car as soon as possible, it used to be a rite of passage, but that’s easing off now.” It’s certainly not feasible for the majority of university students, let alone 17 year olds, to be running a car now and so trains become the next best option.
Unfortunately for us in Lancaster, however, matters are made worse by the fact that Lancaster train station is on the main line, meaning a higher price for the luxury of travelling on a Virgin train. But do comfortable Virgin trains really make up for extortionate prices? They may be more comfortable, but trains are often late or experience problems, and overcrowding is beginning to be an issue in the North West just as much as in London.
Travelling as a student is fast becoming a great expense for little comfort in return. Even though 16-25 year olds can apply for a railcard which knocks off a third of the ticket price, the privilege is restricted to non-peak hours and, unless you manage to get some sort of a deal, the card costs money to own anyway. Money for travel seems to be slipping out of our fingers with no apparent hope of a decrease in any transport prices or of improvement in our rail service.
Even planned improvement to rail networks, such as the HS2 rail project which plans to have high speed trains between London, the West Midlands and Manchester, cannot be implemented without controversy. Despite serious problems of overcrowding and an ageing rail network, customers are not seeing promised renovations and improvements on a daily basis. So where is all our cash going?
What also frustrates me is the plainly false advertising of companies that claim that their train tickets are far cheaper than their competitors, which lures students who want to save cash into thinking that this is the way to go. Such advertising, however, is completely false. The only way to get cheap tickets is to either book them about 13 weeks in advance or to choose a very slow and meandering train which will make you wish you hadn’t bothered. Then of course there’s the booking fee on top which companies like these conveniently forget to mention until the final page of payment. If, like me, you haven’t got the time to plan your life 13 weeks in advance, you’ll soon discover that train tickets are exactly the same price on every single website that claims to be the cheapest train ticket seller.
It’s all a bit of a headache. Train companies are clearly out to make profit rather than to take care of its customers. Students like us are unfortunately trapped in this minefield of a price war. Yet again our pockets are being squeezed and going home for a visit is becoming more and more expensive. Whilst we may not like to admit it, travelling home on occasion has its plus sides, but with train fares increasing at an uncontrollable rate, it’s turning out to be more of a luxury journey than a right. Will we ever get out of this rut and see prices coming down? For the foreseeable future, it seems that we’ll just have to avoid travelling on the train unless absolutely necessary.