Given the daily news, you’d think that getting to work on time by train was an impossible dream.
Not if you look outside the South- East of England.
Which? has questioned 14,000 passengers and asked for their verdicts on rail operators’ punctuality, reliability, availability of seats, value for money, standing room and even the state of the loos.
Just the ticket: House prices in York have risen thanks, in part, to better rail services in and out of the city
The clear winner is Grand Central, which runs from King’s Cross to the North-East, but specialises in services through Yorkshire. Elsewhere, Merseyrail and Chiltern both rate highly.
Worst rated (perhaps no surprise) is Southern Railway, which operates between London and the South Coast and which has seen widespread strike action.
Other London-focused commuter operators, such as Southeastern and Thameslink, are also near the bottom.
The Which? survey comes on the heels of analysis by property portal Zoopla showing homes in Ilkley in Yorkshire and Bromsgrove in the Midlands — rail commuter hotspots for Leeds and Birmingham respectively — record above average price rises.
So if you want to enjoy genuinely good rail services, where should you move to?
Well appointed: Homes don’t come more handsome than The Manor House in Northallerton. Includes four bedrooms, sash windows and an Aga
Grand Central — which won top honours in autumn’s National Rail Passenger Survey as well as the Which? study — has given a boost to house prices in Yorkshire and the North-East, which have both boomed far above most rival regions.
Business consultancy PwC says Yorkshire house price rises will outperform the national average this year with an increase of 3.5 per cent, followed by 2.7 per cent in 2019 before an average 3.4 per cent each year between 2020 and 2022.
This would see the county’s average house price move to £182,000 in 2022 compared with £155,000 today.
You can get from Halifax to Wakefield in under 35 minutes and from Northallerton to York in 20.
Doncaster to London King’s Cross is a shade under 100 minutes.
‘People ideally want to be no more than a 30-minute rail trip from Leeds, York and Harrogate,’ says Yorkshire buying agent Sally Perks.
Good connections: This modern four-bedroom house is close to Wilmslow station (trains to Manchester). The kitchen-breakfast room leads to the garden
Merseyrail — which in September was voted Passenger Operator of the Year in the National Rail Awards — carries 110,000 passengers each weekday from 68 stations over 75 miles of track, of which 6.5 miles are underground.
Birkenhead to Liverpool Central takes about 15 minutes — Preston to Liverpool is just under 75 minutes.
Liverpool’s house prices have been picking up speed, too.
They’re up 25.2 per cent in the past five years, according to Zoopla, and average just over £173,000.
Hometrack, a consultancy which monitors sales in the UK’s 20 largest cities, puts Liverpool at the top because average prices are up 7.5 per cent in the past year.
Merseyside’s most popular upmarket areas for house buyers are Sefton, a coastal strip that includes Grand National venue Aintree and the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, and the Wirral, the leafy peninsula including Birkenhead and West Kirby with the River Mersey on one side and the River Dee on the other.
High living: The garden of this 18th-century stone house in Bloxham has views of the church spire. There are three storeys, including a vaulted loft room
Home counties’ links
Chiltern serves Birmingham, Oxford and London and many stations in between.
It’s recently led to an increase in demand for homes in Banbury, from which trains into Marylebone are sometimes quicker than those from Oxford into Paddington.
High Wycombe to Oxford is about 40 minutes, Banbury to Marylebone is 70 minutes, while from Leamington Spa it’s only 30 minutes into Birmingham.
Meanwhile, there’s a new Oxford Parkway railway station north of the city, outside the congested ring road.
That has made pretty but isolated villages more popular.
Other towns and villages have benefited.
‘Thame and the surrounding villages have increased in value considerably and caught up with towns or villages such as Henley and Marlow, whose rail links are secondary in comparison,’ says James Shaw, of buying agency Prime Purchase.
Another village now on the map thanks to improved rail links is Islip, according to Charles Wellbelove of estate agency Hamptons International.
‘It offers better value for money than north and central Oxford.
‘It’s a pretty village with several pubs and a vibrant community plus a mainline station on the Chiltern line to Oxford Central, Bicester and Marylebone,’ he says, adding that some property values close to the station have risen as much as 20 per cent.