Britain’s long distance rail fares could fall by over 40% by adopting Europe’s proven ‘Third Way’ model

LONDON, 16th November 2022: Many European countries have adopted a ‘Third Way’ model for their Long Distance train services. Known as ‘Open Access’, rail operators are able to set fares, product and frequencies based upon meeting and growing passenger demand, rather than being confined to pre-set fares or timetables specified by Government or transport authorities. There is no parallel concession or Public Service Contract on the same route.

Furthermore, in a growing number of countries, ‘Open Access’ long-distance operators fully compete against each other on the same route, which has led to higher frequencies, lower fares and savings for the taxpayer.

For example, since Italy introduced Full Open Access competition over ten years ago, domestic low-cost flights on the same routes (for example between Milan and Rome) have almost disappeared with travellers taking advantage of a much higher frequency of rail service and much lower fares by train. 

In fact, wherever there has been Full Open Access competition, modal shift to rail has been very fast and has resulted in many more people using the train:

CountryEvolution of average fareEvolution in growth
(on routes with competition, since 2012)
(competition Stockholm-Gothenburg since 2015)
Czech Republic
(on routes with competition, since 2011)

Contrary to what some people claim – Open Access operators in Europe do not only connect big cities. Instead, they serve plenty of smaller towns as well,  and they frequently share the same tracks with freight and local passenger trains. In addition they save the taxpayer money, because governments no longer have to subsidise unnecessary concessions or Public Service Contracts (PSCs/PSOs). They also tend to come top of customer satisfaction surveys.

By contrast, in the United Kingdom, ‘Open Access’ is restricted to only a handful of routes and accounts for less than 1% of all rail services. Most of the primary British routes linking cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow have only one single rail operator under a managed public service contract, resulting in higher fares and lower service levels.

ALLRAIL, the association of independent passenger rail companies in Europe, believes that the time is ripe for Full Open Access on long distance routes in Britain.

It seems that the only choice being discussed is between PSC concessions and re-nationalisation. But there is a Third Way: adoption of the Full Open Access model for profitable long distance services, including competition between operators. This model has been evidenced to be so successful in other European countries that it is often supported by politicians from across the political divide.”

ALLRAIL Secretary General Nick Brooks

“It would be a real ‘Win-Win’ for government and passenger, with lower fares and running costs and the potential for huge shift from road & air to rail. It would also bring huge societal and economic benefits to all the regions of Britain – not just to London – helping the government with true “levelling up”.

Adrian Quine – British entrepreneur and author of policy papers and op-eds on Open Access

To conclude: ALLRAIL urges the British government to phase out franchises and management contracts for profitable long-distance routes and replace them entirely with competing Open Access operators, by redistributing the same train paths and rolling stock that are currently in use. Trains on the future High Speed 2 (HS2) should be run the same way as well, with rival operators offering competing services to each other on the new high speed infrastructure that is being built.