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RAC: High Speed Rail is just for the rich

A new high-speed rail (HSR) line would benefit only a handful of well-off travellers but cost the taxpayer billions, the RAC Foundation has claimed.

Ministers are considering a report by a High Speed 2 to look at a London-Birmingham high speed line, with possible extensions to Scotland. A White Paper is expected on high speed rail plans next month

However, the RAC foundation said this would swallow-up cash that was much needed by other transport schemes.

RAC foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister, speaking at a transport conference in London, said: “Railways are generally used by the rich and a high-speed line between London and Scotland is unlikely to be any exception.

“As a proportion of their disposable income, the wealthy spend most on train travel. But when it comes to car-owning households - rich or poor - they all shell out roughly the same in percentage terms.

“By diverting funding - for both capital and maintenance projects - away from the road network, there is the very real risk that the less well-off will be hardest hit, as they are the ones who are least likely to travel by train and so will have to put up with increasing congestion and pothole-strewn highways.

“For most of the people, most of the time, the car is public transport, and Government policy and spending needs to reflect this.

“It is absolutely correct that long-term thinking needs to be at the heart of transport planning to create future travel capacity; however this has to be based on the reality of people’s lives.

“When over 90% of all passenger travel takes place on the roads it seems wrong that so much political attention is being focused on transport services for the elite, especially at a time when funds are so desperately needed to repair the roads damaged by the awful winter weather,” he said.

Readers' comments (14)

  • Michael Paul

    While it may be true that at the moment a large percentage of travel is car-based, this cannot be a sustainable situation for the future. We have to put the infrastucture, such as better rail links, in place to achieve change. I'm sure that the experience in other European countries such as France, Germany and Spain has disproved the myth that high-speed rail is only for the rich.

    Mike Paul, Stuttgart, Germany

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  • Experience in the continent proves the RAC claim to be biased propoganda. All passengers will benfit from the high speed links and those seeking cheaper fares will have to book in advance. This is fairly normal in the Air industry so why should it be any different on Rail ?

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  • agreed

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  • John Mather

    I have to say that I agree with Professor Glaister. It would be very nice to have a high speed railway system but we need to make best use of the limited funds that are available for transport infrastructure and that to my mind means giving priority to the mode of transport that most people and goods use now and are likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We need to make best use of our roads.

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  • The views of any alleged expert capable of spouting such profundities as "the car is public transport" should be treated with considerable caution. As for "Railways are generally used by the rich", it might seem that Professor Glaister is mentally stuck in the 1970s. Whatever one might think of railway privatisation, it is undeniable that rail travel has increased by a massive proportion in the last decade or so, which can hardly be due solely to the "rich".

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  • John Mather

    A flexible (means you can travel at peak times) standard class return ticket between Crewe and London costs circa £200. Now that I think is a bit rich. Not everyone can make their arrangements well in advance and travel off peak to get the benefit of discounted fares.

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  • If you ignore price, then for the majority of journeys the majority of the population prefer the car over the train. This is because of convenience. When you bring price into it, that means that if car and train cost the same, people would choose the car. People would therefore only choose the train if it were cheaper than the car.

    How Glaister can then say that the train is only for the rich is beyond me. I'm fairly sure that a lot of people who use the train do so because they can't afford a car. Or because for the particular journey they are undertaking (e.g. commuting without car sharing, and taking into account parking costs) the train works out cheaper.

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  • I am sure the RAC have no conflict of interest in saying more should be spent on road funding.

    Incidentally, has the 'anonymous' option for commenting disapeared?

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  • My 70 mile round trip commute is 30% cheaper by car and 100%+ faster than the train (and additional modes of transport to get to the office/home).

    Sustainability pales into insignificance when it comes at personal cost either financially or in time - my personal time is priceless.

    My road tax is reducing this year.... bonus!

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  • "Incidentally, has the 'anonymous' option for commenting disapeared?"

    It would appear so, but common sense would surely say not to use your real name in a public forum anyway right? I mean, I registered with a false name and with an email address that contains no reference to me.... be stupid to do anything different AnonEng surely ;-) I'm John Smith.... original I know.

    If you go to your account profile you can change the name display from "name" to "n/a"

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