Is this the end of First Class rail? Ministers pay train firms to do away with premium seats
- First class carriages will become a rarity as a result of the move
- It is designed to placate passengers angry at being in packed trains
- Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is behind the plan
- He is understood to have authorised millions of pounds for it
- Move emerges on day passengers face the annual rise in fares
Train firms are to be paid millions by the Government to convert first class carriages for use by standard ticket holders to ease overcrowding.
First class carriages could become a rarity as a result of the move designed to placate passengers angry at being packed into increasingly congested standard class carriages on busy routes.
As commuters returning to work after the Christmas and New Year break are hit by another punishing round of fare rises, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is preparing to pay train companies to do away with first class seats that are left empty, government sources say.
End of the line: Empty seats on a first class Great Western carriage travelling from London. Ministers are considering asking train companies to convert them for use by standard ticket holders
Mr McLoughlin is negotiating changes to the franchise agreement with First Great Western, whose trains connect London to the South West of England, South Wales and the Thames Valley, to effect the move.
He is understood to have authorised millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help compensate the company for making the conversions.
Typically, a nine-carriage train will provide 101 first class and 526 standard class seats. In 2010, all ten of the most overcrowded rail services in the country were provided by First Great Western.
Rail minister Stephen Hammond today confirmed the option was being considered with the government in negotiations with a number of train companies about a number of ideas.
He added: 'There are some new ideas we are looking at. This is one of them. Is it going to happen? It may. It may not.'
Standard class: Commuters packed in on the 07.44 Great Western train from Henley on Thames to Paddington
The increase pushes some commuters into the £5,000-a-year club, with annual season tickets to London from Deal and Dover Priory in Kent costing £5,012.
But despite the cost of a ticket, many commuters struggle to find a seat and are forced to stand.
Operators admit that first class carriages are rarely more than two-thirds occupied, though they are reluctant to get rid of them of their own volition because of the premium they make on tickets.
'We know that this is something that annoys travellers and we want to do more to address the balance between first and standard class carriages'Commuters packed like sardines into standard class carriages often complain bitterly when they see empty first class accommodation.
‘We know that this is something that annoys travellers and we want to do more to address the balance between first and standard class carriages,’ said a senior government source.
The contractual reform expected to begin next month with First Great Western and take effect over the next two years will affect all but sleeper services and a small number of smaller trains.
Travelling first class: The Queen waits for a First Capital Connect train to depart from Kings Cross Station in London to Kings Lynn in December 2009
End of an era? Bowlers and brollies for the first class commuters on a British railways train in 1965
Ministers are, however, concerned that it will mean standard class being seen as third class, which was phased out half a century ago.
Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, insists that the party will resist the Government ‘rolling out the budget airline model across our railways’.
The Institute for Economic Affairs, a think tank, proposed in a recent report that standing-room only carriages should be introduced at the front of commuter trains on busy routes, offering tickets at about a fifth less than the standard class fare. Ministers have dismissed that idea as unacceptable.
All three main parties are increasingly concerned to capture the rail commuter vote.
Research for the Campaign for Better Transport has revealed that half of marginal constituencies contain large numbers of rail commuters, with the majority being Conservative held.
Successive governments have raised rail fares by above inflation.
With incomes under pressure, transport has become the biggest single outgoing for the average household – more than mortgage repayments and food.
According to an analysis by the TUC’s and rail unions’ Action for Rail campaign published today, UK commuters spend over three times more of their salary on rail fares than most European passengers.
TALKING OF FIRST CLASS THOUGH..........
On Saturday 28th December 2013 punters were treated to 'first class' travel behind one of the few 'Deltics' left in full working order. D9009 'Alycidon' haul a special from Derby via Chesterfield, Sheffield and Doncaster to Leeds via the main lines. From there it went on up the Settle & Carlisle line to Carlisle and afterwards across to Newcastle. During the late afternoon it then travelled down the East Coast Main Line and somewhere between York and Doncaster achieved 100-miles per hour.
Then back to Sheffield where it was subbed by another diesel, in order to return to its home shed at Barrow Hill.
Images below show the train as it departed from Chesterfield and on the main line to Sheffield. As usual with northbound trains, bright and low winter sunshine caused some photographic difficulties, but the results still provide a flavour of the day.