Do you know how much a return train ticket costs from Westbury in Wiltshire to London Paddington? It’s not a long journey in the grand scheme of things, just 1 hour and 40 minutes from start to finish, direct with no change of trains. Well if you just turn up on the day and happen to choose a train arriving in London before 9am then you’ll be charged the princely sum of £156! I don’t go to London very often, but yesterday I made the trip along with 2 colleagues. Fortunately we’d had the foresight to book tickets in advance, and paid £80 return, but let’s consider what would have happened if we’d had to make a last minute trip and couldn’t book tickets 7 days prior.

We’d have spent more than £450 between the 3 of us in a single day on train fares, for a train service where you aren’t guaranteed a seat or the train to run on time. Not to mention the fact that the coaches are so outdated that you have to reach out of the window to open the door and let’s be honest don’t regularly run on time. Not forgetting a ticket system where you virtually need a ticketing degree to understand all the types and deals available and where buying 2 single fares is often cheaper than a return.

But what’s the alternative? Well for around £300 we could have hired a private car to drive us from home into London (perhaps not all the way to the centre).and back again in the evening. This would have been a nice Mercedes or the like with a pleasant driver and pretty much door to door service. We could have easily slept or worked in the car and arrived refreshed and ready for the day. Plus of course travelled at a time convenient to us and not dictated by the train company.

The second option is to have driven ourselves from home to a tube station on the London suburbs such as Hillingdon. Total travelling distance almost exactly 100 miles and in theory a 2 hour travel time. A rough guesstimate of costs for a car returning 40 mpg would be about 15p per mile in Diesel costs, lets round up to 20p to take account of wear and tear etc. So £40 total cost for a 200 mile round trip, plus £8 each for a day travel card and I’m going to guess £10 for a day’s parking. All in £74 for the total journey, a quite considerable saving versus the train ticket.

So remind me again Mr Cameron, why exactly should I be using public transport? The train isn’t cheaper, certainly not more convenient and only 20-30 minutes quicker. Of course in rush hour traffic driving could take longer but for a saving of £376 that’s something I could be willing to live with.

Rising petrol prices are already making things difficult, so what’s the future for the vast majority of people who can’t live near or choose not to live within walking distance of work? What are your experiences of train travel? Have you cut down on all non essential travel of all types or made a decision on where to live based on the increased cost of commuting?