Back in 1981 a series of TV adverts featuring Jimmy Savile proclaimed “This is The Age Of The Train” – and with ever rising oil prices the age of the train has never gone away. That said, thanks to John Major the taxpayer now hands over far more in subsidies to private train company shareholders each year than it would have cost to run British Rail as a public amenity on the French or German model.
But those adverts show that 30 years ago BR fares weren’t as low as you might imagine. An Awayday ticket from Birmingham to Liverpool is shown at £7.80 – whereas today theadvance fare would be £18. And that 1981 price in today’s money, according to thisismoney.co.uk, would be £26.36.
That doesn’t mean today’s fares are actually cheaper across the board. Anyone who uses trains for work or business – and has to make specific journeys at specific times – is mercilessly milked, and season ticket holders get the worst of it.
But there’s one area where private enterprise has unquestionably improved rail travel.
British Rail Catering used to be a byword for overpricing and awfulness – mocking it had been the stock in trade of unoriginal comedians for decades. Ever since the noughties, edible food and drinkable coffee have been slowly but surely making their way onto the nation’s stations.
The sandwiches may still be massively overpriced – but these days at least you can eat them.