UK rail commute could cost 13% of annual salary after latest price hike

05 January 2018

British commuters look to have had their consumer power further curbed by the annual spike in the price of rail travel. According to a new study, after the highest increase in five years, travellers could forfeit more than 10% of their salary, compared to fractional prices in Europe.

British commuters face fresh rail fare increases as they return to work this week, now spending up to five times as much of their salary on season tickets as passengers across Europe, as found by new research from the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Fare rate rises were announced for the start of 2018, and while these raises tend to attract the ire of the general public annually, this year is exceptional. In the largest fare increase in half a decade, ticket prices will grow a third faster than wages will over the coming 12 months.

UK wage stagnation has been cited by numerous studies throughout 2017 as being a major strain on the economy. Slower growth than expected last year was partially attributed to cautious consumers, who had restricted their spending due to flat-lining incomes coupled with rising inflation. Enlarged expenses such as the price of a daily commute are likely to add to that pressure over 2018, and leading economists have already forecast even slower growth of 1.5% for the year.

The TUC’s analysis of British and continental wages, paired with the ticket prices of respective networks, suggests that someone on an average salary travelling from Chelmsford to London will have to pay out 13% of their wage for season tickets at £381 a month. By contrast, comparable commutes would cost a mere 2% of the average salary in France, 3% in Italy, 4% in Germany, and 5% in Spain and Belgium. Wages are set to grow by only 2.6% in 2018, while season tickets will go up by 3.6% – over a third faster than wages.

UK rail commute could cost 13% of annual salary after latest price hike

The hike in pricing is the latest episode in a seemingly endless saga – as ticket bills once again jumped higher than inflation. In January 2017, it was announced fares for passengers were to rise a further 2.3%, topping of an above-inflation increase of ticket costs of 25% since the mid-1990s, when British Rail was first privatised. Meanwhile, reports from across the country suggested huge hikes in the cost of season-tickets since 2010, with the largest increase of 43% coming for commuters between Tame Bridge Parkway near Walsall and Nuneaton. In the same period median gross weekly wages meanwhile increased by just 8%.

Commenting on the study, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Many commuters will look with envy to their continental cousins, who enjoy reasonably-priced journeys to work. Employers can help out by offering zero-interest season ticket loans, or offering more flexible work hours and locations, but ultimately the government need to take our railways back into public hands.”

The Department for Transport cited heavy investment in railways as the reasoning behind the latest increase, stating,  “We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times to improve services for passengers - providing faster and better, more comfortable trains with extra seats.”

According to the most recent analysis from BCG’s Rail Performance Index, UK railways are the 8th best performing rail system across the Europe thanks to a weighted average in which quality of service and pricing only accounted for part of its overall scoring. According to the findings, Great Britain had the third highest safety rating of 25 nations listed in the index, and scored a ‘good’ rating for intensity of use, due to its relatively regular level of freight utilisation across its rail network. However, BCG’s analysts also found that the British rail system as a whole had continued to deliver sub-par returns on public subsidies, with increased state spending on privately owned networks having a below-average impact on performance improvement.


How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

11 April 2019

Amey Consulting has leveraged data insights to assist Network Rail with the improvement of its South-Eastern route. Using the Quartz tool, which monitors train movement, Network Rail will now be able to commit to data-enabled interventions to quickly improve underperforming train stations.

With rail services in the UK coming under strain from the demands of modern commuter life, while the infrastructure and service delivery of the nation’s railways has come in for sustained criticism in recent years, a period of regeneration is on the cards at last. Network Rail is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the railway network in Great Britain, and has subsequently tapped the consulting industry on a regular basis to help find areas of improvement.

The group recently drafted in consultancy BearingPoint to conduct a thorough organisational evaluation and advise Network Rail (High Speed) on attaining a ‘fit for purpose’ organisational standard – for which the consultancy was nominated at the 2019 MCA Awards. Meanwhile, ArupArcadis and Aecom have been contracted to help Colas Rail and Babcock Rail implement a decade-long framework for Network Rail, aimed at supporting the delivery of the next generation of rail systems, with the contracts said to be worth as much as £5 billion

How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

As Network Rail further aims to improve its performance and customer service offering, another area it has sought help from the consulting sector for is its South-East route. The network of railways connects London with the southern parts of the country, as well as with Europe, making it the busiest in the country, with more than 500 million passenger journeys per year. This crucial expanse of rail was plagued with small minute delays, which were impacting millions of passengers every day, while reducing the efficiency and capacity of the overall network – something Amey Consulting was selected to help solve.

Amey Consulting soon determined that with the sub-threshold delays to services only lasting for 1 or 2 minutes, most were not the subject of detailed root cause analysis, and this made their corrections almost impossible – with dire consequences. Without addressing these delays, passenger satisfaction would fall, while the capacity and efficiency of the network would be reduced, stinging the income of Network Rail even before a host of delay-related fines would hit the company.

In order to help the client gain a better understanding of where, how, when and what these small delays occur, Amey Consulting looked to demonstrate the value of data-led consulting, with a significant reduction in delays within the first month of rolling out changes to key stations. The consultants embedded themselves in Network Rail’s team, helping them learn the key skills needed to support and apply data-driven solutions.

Agile transport

This involved the deployment of the Quartz tool. The system utilises to-the-second train movement data to present the performance of individual stations across the South-East route. It allows users to effortlessly understand station performance with a high level of detail, and use this information to identify losses caused by small-minute delays. The granular data allows for targeted actions to drive efficiency savings and performance improvements. More importantly, it allows users to understand the impact of small process changes on performance. 

Steve Dyke, an Executive Partner at Amey Consulting, said of the project, “We looked to identify the physical root cause on the infrastructure, building a case for change then managing that project implementation and tracking the benefit/value.  In doing so we are working to define a data performance improvement service to the operational and infrastructure owners.”

Just as important for the project as the technology, however, was teaching the Network Rail team how to leverage it after the consultants were gone. The Amey Consulting team worked to develop an agile working culture within Network Rail’s South-East division, helping staff to be confident in using data to improve the journeys of millions of people per year by attacking the problem from the ground up.

Dyke concluded, “This is less about the tools and about the approach to managing performance.  It meant using by-the-second analysis, data science, and then agile development to visualise and identify areas where improvements can be made.  We then worked with NR to change the way they approached the management of the infrastructure changes.  So rather than pass the information down the value chain, any of which could have been missed, we managed the change end-to-end.”

The project was so successful that Amey Consulting was also among those honoured at the recent MCA Awards. The firm scooped the Performance Improvement in the Public Sector prize for its work with Network Rail, at the 2019 ceremony in London.