Justine Greening’s attempt to soften the impact of the rail fares rise by reducing it to 1 per cent above inflation rather than 3 shows good intent but a failure to realise the practicalities of a very complex and at times antiquated industry.
The story appeared in two newspapers this morning, the Indy and the Times, suggesting its source was a briefing rather than pure journalistic wishful thinking. There was even a costing, £29m, which suggests that someone in the Treasury has done their sums and that the price of appeasing angry commuters would not pretty marginal in these days when a billion is small change.
However, the January rise is already well embedded in the train operators’ computers having been inputted, I understand, by hand. To reverse that by the first week in January would be impossible, and therefore the change, welcome as it might be, would be difficult to bring about – unless the DfT is prepared to pay for lots of clerks wrecking their Xmases in front of their computers.
This is a harsh lesson for Ms Greening – or whoever leaked this clever idea: tinker with railway finances at your peril. At least, though, it does suggest that she will have passengers’ interests more at heart than her predecessor whose preference for Jags rather than Junipers was all too apparent.