image captionTom Copeland expects to be commuting to London fewer days a week
The government has announced the creation of a new unified state-owned rail body called Great British Railways (GBR), promising better and more efficient train services from 2023 onwards.
It says the reforms will make travel smoother, removing the existing “over-complicated and fragmented” system.
Complaining about rail travel in the UK has long been a national pastime. There is even a popular board game about signal failures and network problems that British families have been playing since 1973.
But the pandemic has brought about new challenges and life is unlikely to look the same as it did before.
So what do commuters want now? Rail travellers tell us their key concerns.
‘I’m very interested to see what the savings are’
Tom Copeland is an IT security manager in Peterborough.
Before the pandemic, he worked three days a week in his company’s head office in London and two days a week in the firm’s local office.
Because Peterborough is on the main commuter belt from the north of England, his season ticket cost him £9,156.
A day ticket would have cost £120, making it cheaper for him to get the season ticket instead.
“Before the pandemic, I was only in London three days a week but had to pay the full costs of the season ticket, so I welcome the more flexible approach,” he tells the BBC. “I’m certainly very interested to see what the savings are.”
Although he hasn’t commuted to London since the pandemic started, he thinks he will be going back in for two days a week from 21 June onwards.
“Before the pandemic, I was paying about £750 a month,” says Mr Copeland. “I’m hoping with this approach to at least halve that.”
‘Accessibility on trains has got worse’
image captionKate Woodcock-Fowles, who lives with muscular dystrophy, wants improved accessibility on trains
Kate Woodcock-Fowles, an assistant architect in Sheffield who lives with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease, says disabled people are having a hard time trying to travel on newer trains, such as the Azuma trains being used on the East Coast Mainline.
She has been lobbying the government since 2019 to improve accessibility on trains, after experiencing “degrading, humiliating treatment” when trying to board.
Specifically, she wants level boarding – from the platform to the train – to be made a legal requirement on the UK rail network by 2040.
“I’ve started looking for jobs outside of London because it’s easier for me to be close to family support and I can’t get home when I need to any more,” she says.
“I don’t want to be manhandled on a train every weekend to go and see my parents – it really affects people’s lives.”
In correspondence, the Department for Transport (DfT) said it was trying to ensure completely level access for passengers between trains and platforms on newer networks such as the Newcastle Metro or the Docklands Light Railway in London.
However, it was unable to change some platforms in the UK’s rail network for “historical reasons”.
When Ms Woodcock-Fowles pushed the issue, she says she was told by the DfT that it would no longer correspond with her on the matter.
“[Access for disabled people] is a completely invisible issue that a vast majority of politicians fail to grasp,” she says.
“You can’t just say that the way in which the Victorians designed platforms, without considering disabled people, was acceptable. The way infrastructure is designed treats me as a second-class citizen.”
‘Flexible train fares will help me buy a house’
image captionJessie Millner and her partner Fredrik are excited about giving up renting in London
Jessie Millner lives in London with her partner Fredrik, working in pharmaceutical advertising.
She is originally from Ashford, Kent, and it cost £8,000 a year for her to commute to work, so eventually she moved to London and rented a place there for roughly the same amount.
The fast train from Ashford was her only option for getting to work on time.
The only alternative to that was a two-hour-long coach journey into London that her friends had to take in order to save money.
But fortunately, thanks to the pandemic, there are more opportunities for her to work from home, which means she can give up renting.
“I’m 26 and I want to buy a house. With my job, there are opportunities to work from home flexibly – that means I can now actually buy a property in Kent,” she tells the BBC.
“Combined with the 5% deposit scheme, it means when I’m applying for mortgages, I can say train fares are changing, so don’t have to declare it as much of my income.”
“Why are longer distances much cheaper than shorter journeys?”
Spencer Chase, from Ifield in Crawley, delivers vehicles for a living part-time and often has to take the train home.
image captionSpencer Chase, who is semi-retired, needs to take the train home when completing jobs delivering vehicles
The longest journey he has undertaken in a day is a 600-mile round trip journey delivering a car to the Lake District.
He has a railcard and tries to travel off-peak as much as possible, because he has to factor in the cost of the return journey when deciding to accept a delivery job.
Mr Chase, who used to work in the City of London and has commuted for 35 years, wants to see a standardisation of rail fares across the country.
“What amazes me is the huge disparity of fares, where much longer distances sometimes are much cheaper then shorter journeys – for example, from Corby to Ifield is £17.40, but from Bedford to Ifield is £24.35,” he tells the BBC.
“That’s 40% higher for a journey 25 miles shorter [even though] the train from Corby goes through Bedford.”
He thinks more needs to be done to get travellers back on to trains.
“I think the government needs to offer the equivalent of an annual discount for one in order to encourage people back into the office and the night time economy. “
‘I want to commute to see the football’
Robert Chapman in Bedford is an ardent Sunderland supporter.
image captionSunderland fan Robert Chapman would much rather travel by train to football matches
Currently he drives to all games – 25 times each season – because it costs so much money to get a train ticket.
“Because of changes to fixtures, buying cheaper advance tickets is not an option,” he says.
Mr Chapman, a retired science teacher, would really like the train industry to consider creating a flexible season ticket just for football supporters.
He reckons it costs £4,000 to support Sunderland each year in petrol costs.
“I really do not enjoy driving 500 miles to watch a football match, but unfortunately using the train on a regular basis is just not an option at the moment,” he adds.