Priced out of letting the train take the strain

No doubt to the annoyance of those who have decided that a theory can be reported as truth, I am unconvinced about climate change.

But, as comparing my brain to the brains of those who research the issue is like comparing a pea and a melon, I'll steer clear of a debate.

And, just like millions of others, I'll try to balance a little bit of green living, without going into the red. After all, imagine the warm glow if it turns out that my decision to recycle and to cycle has 'saved the planet'. I'll feel like Superman in a knitted lentil cardigan.

One of my favourite methods of saving planet Earth is to take the train.

It is not entirely a selfless act, as I think trains are comfortably the best way to travel. Even taking into account the numpties who jabber into their mobile phones on the quiet coach, watching the world go by from a carriage window is a splendid stress-buster.


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It is also a good way to reduce the number of cars clogging up the arteries that pump visitors in and out of the heart of Norfolk.

So why are the government and the train operators making it so difficult for people to make that choice?

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From yesterday, the cost of an average train ticket went up by 5.9pc.

That's at the same time as the average wage packet has been frozen longer than the South Pole, and the cost of living is going through the roof (if you can afford to have one over your head).

Pity the poor commuters, who are effectively hostages to fortune. Many have no choice other than to take the train. So when their season ticket prices spiral, they dig ever deeper into their empty pockets.

And what about families?

At the moment, if I am travelling alone, it remains cheaper to take the train than to use my car – if I book my tickets far enough in advance.

If I travel with my wife, we just about break even, but will still choose the rail route because it saves the stress of arguing about whose fault it was that we got lost in the car on the way.

But am I really going to take my family anywhere by train? Yes, if I marry a rich widow or discover a long-lost millionaire maiden aunt.

Having travelled abroad a fair bit in recent years, I have concluded that this country has a unique balance between overpriced rail fares and under-funded rolling stock and infrastructure. Here, more is less, more or less.

Germany, Belgium, Holland, Latvia and even India are able to outshine our efforts, by providing decent trains that run on time at an affordable price.

It's not rocket science – unless you are George Stephenson, of course.

The EDP is firmly behind the Norwich in 90 campaign, which seeks to get the trains from the Fine City to the Big Smoke to take 90 minutes.

It is an important issue, as Norfolk's position on the fringes of people's consciousness is exacerbated by the difficulty that people have in getting in and out of it.

With a new Dutch operator taking the controls from February, maybe there is hope that some continental efficiency will break out, and passengers will finally begin to get better value for their huge outlay.

But, with the government increasingly washing its hands of the railways, you'll forgive me for not being too hopeful. The way things are going, Norwich in 90 is likely to become Norwich for 90 pounds. And the trains will be empty.

•This article was first published on January 3, 2012.

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