Third Class Trains – return to the 1950s or fixing unaffordable public transport?

I like trains.

Lizzie Roberts reports on proposals to introduce Third Class train travel on the East Coast Main Line.

As a significant proportion of The Backbencher’s readership is around the same age as myself, I know that many of you will sympathise with my feelings towards the UK rail system. Wherever you are travelling to, it is often extremely over- priced, rarely on time and highly over-crowded. As a student, the £50 price tag of a return ticket (that’s with a young person’s railcard) makes it very difficult to justify a trip home for the weekend, let alone a visit to see friends in other cities. However, a recently leaked document included plans to introduce the Third Class ticket on the East Coast Main Line. It’s riled up the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Labour: so it’s got me intrigued. If this Third Class ticket provided cheaper and more efficient travel, would it be such a bad thing?

It’s riled up the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Labour: so it’s got me intrigued.

According to Sky News the proposal is an “intermediate class between Standard and First” on the “East Coast Main Line to London and Aberdeen…(it is a) draft prospectus for would-be private bidders interested in taking on the franchise from the Government.”  Therefore, this plans for no lowering of quality in travel than what is already in place in Standard Class, but instead a form of Premium Economy.

Introducing a ‘Third Class’ ticket could enable the Standard Class to become a form of ‘Business class,’ the Standard ticket would then become the ‘Third Class.’  I frequently travel on the Virgin Train service from London to the North, which often carries two or more half empty First Class carriages, whilst the other Standard carriages are jam-packed.  If this plan for a Third Class ticket is trialled successfully on the East Coast Main Line, I would like to see it rolled out to other services up and down the country. The Third Class fare could in turn make the First Class carriages smaller, freeing up more seats on services, such as the London to Glasgow line.

We are continually urged to use public transport for the purposes of lowering pollution. However, the continually rising price of train travel makes this hard to achieve. The BBC reported in August this year for example that commuters in England will face a 4.1% rise in regulated rail fares next year. In addition, according to the Department for Transport’s “Transport Statistics Factsheet” released in 2010 rail fares increased by 17% between 1997 and 2010. Even with the introduction of schemes such as Rail Cards for young people, families and the elderly, as well as, the use of sites such as the trainline.com to purchase cheaper tickets, train prices still seem extortionately high. If there was an introduction of Third Class travel, I would certainly anticipate that this would increase public use of trains.

We are continually urged to use public transport for the purposes of lowering pollution. However, the continually rising price of train travel makes this hard to achieve.

This being said, some people are extremely unhappy about this proposal – calling it a step back to the 1950s. Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh for example stating “David Cameron says we’re all in this together but if that’s true, then why is he going back to the 1950s and reintroducing Third Class?” Is it a return to the 50s, or merely giving those who cannot afford the high fares the chance to travel?

I asked a selection of my peers through a small Facebook poll whether they would favour the introduction of this new class, I received an overwhelming response that many would travel by Third Class if it meant cheaper fares. A solution to this simmering debate between the government, the opposition and the RMT is for them to take notice of what it is the public want. The question should be put to the vonsumers whether they would like, or benefit from, such an introduction or whether they see it as a return to the past. After all, it is us who will be buying the tickets.

Lizzie is a second year History and Politics student at Lancaster University, with a strong passion for American politics, equality and good old British sarcasm.

1 COMMENT

  1. My conern is that this would lead to an ’empty chair crisis’ on the trains. I sometimes feel frustrated on the daily commute when it’s standing room only, yet the First-class carriage is practically empty. Considering that rail fares have consistently increased by more than the rate of inflation over the last couple of decades, I am sure that the vast majority of commuters would plum for the cheapest tickets available. So, I don’t feel that introducing a new class of tickets would work practically, or at least not at peak times. But it’s an interesting idea, and I certainly don’t have any objections to it on idealogical or moral grounds.

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