UK commuters spend vastly more on rail fares than others in Europe

By agency reporter
January 5, 2014

UK commuters spend over three times more of their salary on rail fares than most European passengers, research has revealed.

As the return to work after the Christmas and New Year break continues, rail campaigners have warned that British commuters could be spending over three times more of their salary on rail travel than passengers on publicly-owned railways in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

The Action for Rail (AfR) campaign has compared average earnings with season tickets covering similar commuter routes across Europe. This analysis, published today, reveals that commuters using privatised rail services in the UK are paying much higher fares and spending substantially more of their wages on rail travel to work than commuters using publicly-owned trains elsewhere in Europe.

Taking into account fare increases, the analysis gives the example of UK a worker on an average salary who is now spending nearly 14 per cent of their monthly wages on a £299 monthly season ticket from St Albans to London St Pancras. However, over in Europe workers making similar journeys in Germany and France spend around four per cent of their salary on train fares, in Spain three per cent and in Italy just one per cent.

The AfR analysis comes at a time when rail campaigners and MPs are calling for a rethink over how Britiain’s railways are run. More than 50 Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, Plaid Cymru and SNP MPs have now signed a parliamentary motion calling for the taking of the UK’s railways back into public ownership, tabled earlier this year.

AfR believes that high rail fares in the UK are in part down to the additional costs of rail privatisation. Research by campaign group Transport for Quality of Life (TFQL) shows that extra costs of over £1 billion per year are being incurred through a combination of debt write-offs, dividend payments to private investors and various administrative and legal costs.

TFQL estimate that fare cuts of up to 18 per cent could be achieved if these costs were eliminated by bringing services back within a nationally-integrated railway under public ownership.

While the UK Chancellor’s Autumn Statement said that the government was sympathetic to passenger and rail union calls for an end to inflation-busting fare rises, campaigners believe UK rail fares will continue to exceed ticket prices of state-run European services as long as privatisation remains in place.

Regulated rail fares rose between 3.1 and 5.1 per cent from 2 January 2014 – more than four times faster than average wage increases – adding extra misery to the squeeze on living standards, says AfR.

Last week, rail campaigners, passengers and rail unions were at Kings Cross mainline station in London at peak hours, handing out mock tickets to passengers, which highlight high the costs of fares and privatisation and call for public ownership of the railways.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “Rail passengers and taxpayers are being poorly served by a privatised rail service that has failed to deliver any of the efficiency, investment and cost savings that privatisation cheerleaders promised.

“While the shareholders of the private train operating companies are doing well for themselves on the back of massive public subsidies, passengers are paying the highest share of their wages on rail fares in Europe. Rail passengers must wonder why they can’t have the same cheap and more efficiently run state rail services that exist elsewhere in Europe.”

The TUC and other unions sponsor the Action for Rail campaign.

* Action for Rail:


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.