Fleet News

Guest opinion: Rail is once again a viable alternative

RISING fuel prices and the nation’s unfathomable panic buying of petrol last week have only been shoved down the news pecking order by England’s Ashes victory.

But now the hangovers induced by cricket celebrations have cleared, it is back to reality and it seems the situation on our petrol station forecourts will be back up there as the first item on the news agenda. Talks of blockades of oil refineries, however, have proved unfounded and after a couple days of madness on the forecourts, a state of normality seems to be returning, thankfully.

The petrol ‘crisis’ highlights our dependency – and in some instances, an obsession – with the use of cars. But the stark fact of the day is that now, in many situations, it is becoming simply too expensive to drive. Even a small car usually takes over £30 to fill the tank to the brim to give something between 300 and 350 miles of travel.

But at the same time as petrol becomes more expensive almost by the day – and races relentlessly to that much-feared £1 a litre mark – rail companies are not putting up fares. While some will use the global fuel price rises as reason to raise fares next time they are allowed to (fares are regulated), rail is becoming a viable alternative to the car once again.

Although a champion for the railways, I am not naive enough to think they are always the answer, but the facts are that the majority of today’s trains are faster, better equipped and often cheaper than the road alternative.

I have always argued that choice should be based on what is the best way to travel for a specific journey. Often road is better, sometimes rail is better – there is no hard and fast rule. But rail travel does have many advantages. Of course, so does road, but it appears to me that far too many people nail their flags to one post and often fail to look at the alternative.

Cars have great flexibility – their timetable of use is controlled by the individual.

But their use, especially on longer journeys, is costly, wastes valuable time in the working day and generates greater levels of stress, not to mention the pollution aspect, so important these days.

The train does not, when it goes to plan, which to be fair it usually does. And if you shop around – and if possible, book in advance – then the costs fall. When England last won the Ashes back in 1987, petrol was £1.75 a gallon. It is now nearer £4.30, a rise of well over 100%. Soon it will be over a fiver a gallon. In the same period there are more and more cars on the road and congestion charging will inevitably be expanded.

Travel is becoming more congested and it seems fair to suggest that the increase in road use results in what appears to be more roadworks which further delay road users.

In the same period, the rail fleet has been completely replaced – the average lifespan of a train is now 14 years.

The older trains that remain have been refurbished to a high modern standard and it is just some of the local trains on the rural branch lines that are, how shall we say, ‘no frills’.

London to Manchester in two hours can only be a pipe dream for a motorist. For a rail user it is not and with a plug socket to hand, the amount of work you can do in a relatively uninterrupted environment is amazing.

As we strive for a greener country, it really is time to stop visiting the petrol pumps so often and think about taking the train. Keep the car for the local trips – to the supermarket for the weekly shopping, getting to the office, but most of all, for getting to the station to board a swanky new train for a stress-free trip to a meeting in the middle of the city.

There is a role for the car and the train in today’s modern world, and with fuel prices going only in one direction – perhaps your travel choice could do with going in another direction – and check out what the railways have to offer in terms of efficiency, flexibility and stress-free travel. Pip Dunn, Features editor, Rail magazine

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