But is this actually true Seumas?

Lawyers are always told never to ask questions to which they don\’t know the answer. I am not a lawyer.

It\’s hardly surprising that the mainly publicly owned rail systems in the rest of Europe – several of which now run bits of Britain\’s privatised rail – are cheaper.

Is this actually true?

I know that many European systems are indeed cheaper for passengers, yes. But are they cheaper in total?

Anyone actually know? Not quite sure what the metric should be. Per passenger mile perhaps? But including all costs (which should most definitely include things like pensions!) is the British rail system actually more expensive than those others?

I have a feeling, but no more than that, that Seumas is looking only at ticket prices. Which would be a little naughty really.

9 thoughts on “But is this actually true Seumas?”

  1. Alas it is true. The recent McNulty report compared the UK’s rail operating costs with those in four similar European countries. Not only do we pay the highest fares, but we also have the highest subsidies – it’s the worst of both worlds. Read the report online. Don’t read somebody else’s summary: every article I’ve read about it has an ideological slant.

  2. See 3.3 and figure 6.



  3. John O’Carroll, your link shows the ratio of ticket revenue and subsidy to operating costs for each country – it doesn’t actually compare the total cost.

    Also note the paragraph below the bullet points in 3.3, that it doesn’t include State subsidy of railway workers’ pension schemes.

  4. John, try figure 10 in your report.

    Most of the other countries in europe have State funding (in euros per passenger mile) more than twice the UK level.

    And remember, that doesn’t include subsidies to the railway workers’ pensions.

  5. Looking at the McNulty paper (Andrew M, #1), figure 2.2, the actual day-to-day operating costs of the railways jumped from around £2.5bn in 2000 to £4bn in 2004. And that’s in constant 2009 £, so inflation is on top of that.


    There was also an increase in infrastructure cost around the same time, most of which died away again after 2004, which was probably the railways screwing more money out of the government in the panic reaction to Hatfield.

    But that doesn’t explain the increased operating costs, which stayed high.


  6. And I’m not sure the McNulty paper’s comparisons can be relied on:

    Costs in the comparator countries “are normalised for … degrees of electrification, single or multiple tracks, travel speeds and distances between station stops”

    Most of those are discretionary factors which have a huge impact on costs.

    So what they’re saying is that if you remove the factors that make foreign railways better and more expensive, foreign railways are not more expensive.

  7. Not a direct comparision but:

    I once compared the Tokyo metro and London Underground based on the accounts – London Undergound eats subsidies and has high fares – Tokyo doesnt. The problem is that

    270 stations
    3.22 mn passengers a day
    402km track

    167 stations
    6.3 mn passengers
    203 km track

    London Underground has far more stations, more track and just over half the number of daily passengers. Each station requires staff and more track = more maintenance. No idea what the solution is…

  8. “No idea what the solution is…”: I keep telling you, move the capital to Berwick-on-Tweed. Easy peasy.

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