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Star comment: Rail ticket costs must be realistic

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

There is a case for saying that this is a golden era of the railways, in terms of passenger numbers and the regularity of services.

Whether rail passengers from Shropshire and Mid Wales would agree is entirely a different matter.

However the mood music coming from the company which is taking over one of the franchises covering the county is full of promise, and indeed full of promises.

West Midlands Trains is taking over from London Midland and that crucial link between Shrewsbury and Birmingham in December. It says it is investing £1 billion in the network and bringing in new carriages and extra services to ease congestion on its patch.

This is not quite the revolution that electrification of the line to Telford and Shrewsbury could bring, but it is nevertheless pleasing to hear that the company is speaking with confidence and ambition, and is prepared to put its money where its corporate mouth is.

In what it is proposing, it is effectively throwing down the gauntlet to the other two franchises which cover Shropshire. The West Coast Main Line is due for a new franchise award in 2019, and the Wales and the Borders franchise run by Arriva Trains Wales is due for renewal next year.

Arriva Trains Wales in particular has come in for criticism over the standard of its rolling stock, overcrowded carriages, and services which are less frequent than they could ideally be.

If is the longest word in the English language, but if West Midlands Trains does all the things it sets out to do, there is the hope that it will have a salutary effect throughout rail services in Shropshire and Mid Wales which will result in a raising of the game in all areas.

With pressure mounting on roads all the time, the strategic national aim needs to be to push rail travel. Shiny new carriages, swift journey times and regular services are all part of the equation. British customers are learning to expect, and demand, a good service.

Yet what is going to make the most difference is that ticket prices are kept at a level that ordinary people can afford. It will be a small tragedy if there is a significant improvement in all aspects of the train services of Shropshire and Mid Wales, and yet train travel is so costly in comparison to the alternatives that passengers are put off.

It will not amount to progress if a forward step in terms of quality is cancelled out by a backward step in terms of affordability.

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