I had a few minutes spare while waiting at my local station, so I put some fictitious long-distance return journeys into the ticket machine to see what the costs were, just to amuse myself (Passengers to start the year with station protests as fare increases add to outrage, 2 January). Anytime return to St Ives, Cornwall £309.80; to Fort William £465; and Inverness £382. So not much change out of £1,000 for a couple taking a return trip from Kent to west Scotland. It’s beyond parody.
• You report the “3.1% average fare increase” this year and the claim by Andrew Jones, the rail minister, that “for the sixth year in a row fares are only rising with inflation”. In reality the situation is even worse than this, as “unregulated” fares have risen by much more than the rise in inflation. In 2016 Arriva took over the Northern rail franchise. At that time, for example, an off-peak return fare from Greenfield into Manchester cost £4.40. Five increases later the same journey now costs £6.50, an increase approaching 50%. Is Chris Grayling going to blame this on “the higher pay rises” demanded by the rail unions?
• Welcome though upgrading of carriages will be (Improvement in services promised as rail carriages are upgraded, 31 December), an increase in the number of carriages is more crucial. A major reason for the appalling overcrowding in trains in the north is that trains are so short. Trains run by Northern are typically just two carriages, and TransPennine Express trains on the busy north-west to north-east routes are almost invariably just three carriages. Compare that to local train services in the south-east, such as C2C, which boast multiple carriages (as well as more frequent trains).
Northallerton, North Yorkshire
• Over 178.9m passenger journeys are taken each year on Southeastern, second only to South Western Railway’s 220.2m. Four days before Christmas, the Department for Transport sneaked out a decision to extend the current Southeastern franchise holder’s contract by a further 12 weeks. Users of this important franchise would have had to check the website of Go-Ahead (majority owner of Southeastern) to uncover this news. Surely it’s time to hand control to the London mayor, who has had significant success with the London Overground commuter network’s 191.2m annual journeys. In any case, passenger dissatisfaction with their journeys will endure well into the new year.
• For those of us who have endured the miserable Pacer trains for many years, the announcement (under cover of new year) that these dilapidated Thatcher-era railbuses will likely not be removed by 2020 (as per the Northern franchise commitment) will come as no surprise, but it is wrong to claim that these units acted as the “saviour of the north of England’s railway system” (Report, 31 December).
The bulk of the Pacer fleet was built to run on rural lines in Scotland, Wales, the West Country and East Anglia, on which infrastructure costs (as with adjacent roads) vastly exceed any possible revenue. Unfortunately Pacers proved technically unsuitable for these routes, and the government of the day simply transferred the vastly superior and more expensive Sprinter and SuperSprinter trains, which had been built for northern suburban lines to the shires, with northern commuters paying the price in terms of loss of comfort and amenity.
So it could be said that the back pain experienced by northern commuters – and the negative economic impact on their towns and communities – acted as a cross-subsidy to rural services. Perhaps it is unsurprising that many of these constituencies in towns such as Wigan, Barnsley and Rochdale voted for Brexit and it is also little surprise that no Pacers operate in the south of England, even on short branch lines, such as that to Henley-on-Thames or Marlow, for which they are ideally suited.
Dr Jim Ford
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