Can someone explain the economics of first class rail travel?


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Can someone explain the economics of first class rail travel?

Posted 20 June 2010 16:10 by martin

Hello – is there anybody there?


Slightly off-topic (but relates to sustainable travel), and slightly nerdy, but I took the trouble of wandering through first class on a recent 17.30 (i.e. rush hour) train journey from Birmingham to London.

Out of the 145 first class seats, 11 were occupied.

So a startling 7.5% occupancy (I think 'loading' is the term they use in the sector).

Put to one side the environmental nonsense of transporting carriages and carriages of fresh('ish) air round the country at great speed; can anyone explain to me the business case for doing this?

What is Virgin Trains up to?

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  1. Will says:

    July 2nd, 2010 at 4:48 pm (#)

    It gets worse – there's the further question of the extent to which passengers crammed into crowded standard class carriages are subsidising the travel of those in first class coaches.

    Back of the envelope calculation (these are rough figures, but the point, I think, stands):

    Let us say that those in standard class are paying the £28 “cheapest standard single” and those in first class are paying the £120 “first anytime single” ( – i.e. the most expensive – after all, let's give them the benefit of the doubt), as advertised on

    Let's also assume that there are five standard class carriages at 90% occupancy, which is low for rush hour. There are, on most trains, something like 60 seats per standard class carriage. This gives us about (60×5x.9) = 270 people travelling standard class.

    This gives us the total ticket costs for all standard class passengers (assuming all are on the cheapest advertised ticket) as £7560, and total ticket cost per carriage in standard class of £1512.

    OK. On to first class. The total first class ticket cost (assuming all are on the most expensive advertised ticket) for these eleven good people is £1320. Assuming there are three first class carriages on the train this gives us a total ticket cost per carriage in first class of £440

    So – the next time you have to walk through first class, and you hear anybody tutting, you can politely point out that you are significantly subsidising their comfort, and then move on to join the crowds at the other end of the train.

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