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Rail chief: Higher fares essential to fund improvements
Published 14/01/13

THE chief executive of Network Rail says the increase in train fares is “essential”.

Sir David Higgins, who lives in Henley, said there had not been enough investment in the railways over the past half century.

He spoke at the announcement of a £37.5billion plan to deliver faster journeys, another 170,000 peak-time commuter seats and improved reliability across the network.

The five-year plan will include electrification of the Henley-to-Twyford branch line next year as part of £9billion worth of network upgrades that were first announced in July.

It will be equipped with 25,000 volt overhead power cables, bringing an end to the diesel trains on part of First Great Western’s services.

The move is part of a government scheme to create an “electric spine” from the North to Southampton Docks in a bid to boost the economy.

Sir David, who travels by train from Henley to his office in London, said: “£37 billion is a huge amount of money but it is absolutely essential that we catch up with demand. There is a huge growth in railway — people are using it more than ever with a 50 per cent increase in the last 10 years.

“You can split that money into three pots. The first is to operate the railway, the second is to maintain it to an acceptable and sustainable standard and the third is to cope with growth.”

He said Network Rail needed to “learn lessons” of the past 50 years and improve the railways to cope with growth.

Sir David said: “We haven’t invested to meet with demand and playing catch-up is always more expensive to do, so we have to learn that lesson and not make that mistake.

“In the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties Europe, and Japan for that matter, were building a new rail network and we didn’t build any for hundreds of years.

“We didn’t build any yet we have one of the highest-growth networks in Europe.”

The cost of season tickets on the First Great Western network, which links Henley with London, Oxford and Reading, was increased by an average of 4.2 per cent from January 1.

An annual standard-class season ticket to Paddington now costs £3,388, an increase of £136. Making the same journey via Reading costs £3,955, compared with £3,796 previously.

An annual season ticket to Oxford has risen from £2,580 to £2,688, while a ticket to Reading has increased from £992 to £1,033. Sir David said the Government regulated the price of season tickets, adding: “Our job is to run the railways efficiently.”

In December, it was revealed that commuters from Henley travel to work on the busiest train in the country.

The Department for Transport found that the 7.44am service from Henley to London Paddington carried 80 per cent more passengers than its official capacity.

In April, DfT figures showed that four in 10 passengers on the same First Great Western service were forced to stand, making it the busiest in the South-East.

A survey, carried out on one day, found that the three-carriage train, which stops at Wargrave, Shiplake, Twyford and Maidenhead, was carrying 373 passengers, 148 more than it was designed to hold.

Since then, a carriage has been added.

Published 14/01/13

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