Railway rip-off

IT remains puzzling that a country which pioneered rail travel can run such a poorly-performing and overpriced network. Fare rises, delays to services, overcrowding and poor station facilities are part of the many grievances highlighted by long-suffering passengers on this region's railways.

The problems can be traced back decades from Dr Beeching's short-sighted cuts in the 1960s, through a lack of investment in the network in the 1980s to a disastrous privatisation in the 1990s, even then dubbed by one Tory MP as "the poll tax on wheels".

It also remains inextricably linked to a failure by the authorities to set up integrated transport networks that are so common on the continent, and where public transport flourishes.

Last week's hike in rail prices was, perhaps, the biggest insult to passengers following a decision by Ministers to let them take the strain of financing the railways. For passengers in Yorkshire, it is particularly galling to face swingeing increases when they get so little in return. Much of the planned investment in the rail network in coming years will be carried out in the South East, while rail companies serving the region are being typically tardy over the improvements that they are proposing on routes already blighted by overcrowding.

It is little wonder most passengers feel they are getting poor value for money which inevitably means more will switch from rail to road.

Ministers insist the taxpayer cannot afford to fund the railways on the scale of previous years. But they cannot abdicate responsibility and they should be drawing up a detailed strategy to take the railways and other public transport forward. Our key transport infrastructure is too important to be simply left to the market.