It is heartening to see West Country commuters staging another mass protest at the poor quality of local train services.

The protesting passengers have one rail company firmly in their sights, First Great Western (FGW), with a list of gripes that takes in increased fares, poor punctuality, overcrowded trains and staff shortages that all impact severely on the quality of service.

Commuters taking part in the demonstration today are risking a £1,000 fine or three months imprisonment for failing to buy tickets.

The protest highlights a wider issue that is affecting rail services across the UK, namely the failure of the franchise system to improve services.

Poorly performing companies are not getting penalised under the current system and there is growing concern that although the quality of service is continually falling, the price of fares is still rising.

The bidding war that invariably surrounds the award of a rail franchise might help to boost the Government’s coffers, but there is still very little evidence that it improves services for passengers.

Throw in the wider problems experienced by the rail network and the general impression is that our train services are getting worse, rather than better.

Yet the Government is seemingly blocking attempts to ease overcrowding on busy rail routes.

Little wonder that people are still more inclined to sit gridlocked in their cars, whatever the consequences, rather than put their trust in public transport.

Those who do choose to let the train take the strain undoubtedly deserve a much better deal than they are getting at the moment.

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