My understanding of public transport is that you accept the worse convenience in return for a cheaper price right? You look in America and only the poorer people ride public transport (except in a few very populated areas) and richer people drive.

But the UK! The UK!

So I live in Cheltenham and want to visit Carlisle, a nice border city in the Lake District a mere 240 miles away along basically 2 motorways. In my car, that would take (according to Google) a minimum of 3hrs 40m and probably cost me around £50 in petrol return. So the inconvenience of the train should save me some money (and maybe time?)

Not a chance.

A Saturday return ticket costs £145 and takes 3hrs 48 minutes. Accepting the one change and the 15 minute gap, the two journeys take the same amount of time but the train is much less convenient - certainly in Cheltenham since the station is not in the centre of town so I would have to leave perhaps 30 minutes early to cycle to the station.

Now I am aware of the tortoise and the hare. I can leave my house and drive continuously at, say, 70mph all the way from home to Carlisle non-stop whereas the train has to stop. In fact, as well as Birmingham, the second train stops at an additional 8 stations as well as Carlisle, so, an express long-distance train is stopping at 1 station every 24 miles, with the time it takes to slow, wait and depart, this adds significant time to the journey.

This is the thing. Cars traditionally had the convenience factor and nothing else. They were expensive, not everyone had one, the petrol was expensive and the trains were pretty cheap (I'm not sure they were ever as cheap as we think). This isn't true any more. Almost everyone has a car so we are already paying for insurance, maintenance and our "tax disc". Petrol is expensive mainly due to tax but cars are also efficient so I can do a 500 mile round trip, more or less on a single tank of fule - around £50.

The train on the other hand used to be relatively fast. At a time when a car moving at 60mph was inviting a breakdown, trains could easily get to 80mph and now, of course, even in the UK we have a lot of 125mph trains on the mainlines - some are 40+ years old. The railway timetable also designs paths so that trains can run at line speed with minimal random waiting around, whereas on the road, it is pot luck. If you hit traffic in your car, tough luck, wait it out.

The problem is that cars have caught up and the network capacity has meant that trains have gone backwards. Some journeys were quicker by train in the 1930s than they are now! We have reduced times from, say, London to Edinburgh but these are still only impressive on the very longest services. The fact I can outpace the train over 230 miles, even at 70mph is bad enough but many drivers will now drive at 80-85mph without being caught so the average speed of the train is now really bad - this is on tiemetable times as well, and we have all been delayed on trains so they are not reliable enough to set your watch to. In fact, ignoring the fact that the train is probably slightly less direct in distance than the drive, it would still equate to an average speed of 230/3.8 = 60mph!

The only way this can realistically be clawed back is 1) Long distance trains need to stop at less stations and have more local services to take people to the main stations. 2) Network rail need to urgently up the line speed and max speed of the entire UK network and rolling stock to at least 90mph where physically possible. The fact that places like Carlisle station has (had?) a max speed of 20mph, even for through trains is terrible. The fact that even going along a relatively straight and uninterrupted line from Cheltenham to Bristol is not taken at full tilt is simply unacceptable.

I would be interested to see a plot of actual speeds on a long-distance service to see how much time is wasted on temporary and permanent speed restrictions as well as the time lost per station stop.