From our Swindon Correspondent:
A personal story. I’ve been working for a while with a company in Reading and before Covid, I was only doing about 1 day a week. Rather than spend eye-watering sums on the rail, I thought I could drive to Theale station on the outskirts of Reading, park and take a short local train to work.
I realised that, in around a decade, traffic going into Reading had changed. It had declined to the point that the peak was quite tolerable until right near the centre.
What are the benefits of rail travel? Well, you can have a few beers, you can do a long journey without it being as tiring as driving. But for commuting, it’s that you go past the cars queueing up. If you lose the thing of avoiding congestion, you just have an expensive, unreliable service that you have to share with various lowlifes at times.
We could also consider that if a company only needs people to physically meet occasionally, that adding more time doesn’t matter. Rail networks are about getting people in from the suburbs because they have to be in every day. If you only need to go to work every fortnight, do you mind if the office is in Devizes or Chipping Norton? At which point, rail doesn’t work because no-one is going to build a Staines to Devizes train line. By the time you do all the changes, you could be there in half the time by car.
What is all of this going to do to trains? If there’s less focus towards travelling into a city, and more distribution of jobs and people, more of a balanced network, that means less people paying for those peak time journeys. That’s not only 55% of all journeys, but also a big part of the revenue of railways. I’m guessing a large fall in those people makes it unviable, that it’s the commuters that bankroll the thing, and everyone else is a bit of a bonus.
This really isn’t the vision of the political class that see us as riding bikes like the Dutch and having high speed like the French. But they aren’t going to have much choice in the matter. Politicians