Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Millions of commuters rely on public transport
This week could be key in shaping Britain’s railway future.
The government is expected to launch a White Paper setting out its strategy for modernising the rail system – possibly reviving some of the “magic moments” that define British rail travel such as the Stonehenge crossing.
And it comes as Parliament sits in a “watershed” political environment, with the 2019 general election just a few months away.
Dolores Box, 60, has travelled by train more than 30 times on a weekly basis to visit her daughter and her head teacher in Bristol.
She says the journey can take more than a day but that she gets there in time to attend weekly religious services.
She says: “I love the freedom of the journey and the community spirit I get when I am out there.”
“What I love is actually getting off at the station and having the warmth of the crowds around you,” she adds.
Video caption If these are the magic moments, says Dolores Box, they may be lost forever
Her life’s highlight was travelling with her daughter to Stonehenge during a school trip as a teenager.
She recalls thinking: “I just realised that this is what I want to do as an adult, I am going to do this.”
She says she almost regrets that dream had not become reality when rail privatisation in the late 1990s meant that travel by public transport was increasingly seen as a luxury.
She says: “I am really a firm believer that we need to keep that connection with the communities that we serve and that public transport is a key way of doing that.”
It is a sentiment supported by Tony Willson, 32, who travels to work in Cambridge with his wife.
He says his daily train journey to work used to mean he had to earn extra money to fund his lifestyle.
“Times have changed so much but we do now have the benefits of that, being able to invest in our family in a much more reasonable way.
“The earlier you cut back the harder it’s going to be once you do get back into work, and if we do get into a recession you can see how that affects people’s lifestyle and, in turn, their family lives.”
He adds: “I do try to make a big effort to ensure I can take my wife along on some of my journeys but not on long journeys like the ones that I have been taking for the last 18 months.”
Many commuter rail passengers are unlikely to be going on a last-minute train trip to visit Stonehenge this summer.
Commuters across the UK remain tough critics of rail privatisation.
Last year thousands walked out in a one-day strike over the issue of fares and the lack of investment in the service.
Critics say these last-minute journeys are an enduring legacy of the government’s plans for rail privatisation.
Fiona Button, an independent rail expert, says: “The wailing has gone on for decades, and it’s only been in the last year that the passengers have really started to get on with it.
“The Conservatives wanted a rail system that was perceived to be good value for money, which is the only way that British companies think they will get investment.
“If you have a good investment you then make it possible for the public to have access to the system.”
‘What will be forgotten if there is no real reform’
If the government fails to reinstate the magic moments, she says, “I think what will be forgotten is a commitment of massive investment in the rail industry, new trains, improving the infrastructure.”
Fiona Button believes that a good few years of investment would take the pressure off future governments and allow the industry to grow and to create jobs.
But she adds: “I think it needs to be overseen by the taxpayer and the public. I don’t think we want to see an extension of train operating companies, I don’t think we want to see them franchising the system, we want to make sure that the whole system is able to grow and be effective in creating jobs and enhancing the economy.”
Unions want the government to break up the train operating companies in order to stop them “ripping off passengers”
The First Group is awaiting permission to open a second branch of the West Coast Main Line
The government is backing a plan for trains to run in both directions on the West Coast Main Line
This will be the first time since the 1930s that the WDM will be in two-way operation
The communities secretary has announced an £800m fund for new or refurbished railways