The number of passengers using UK rail has doubled since 1996. It’s a growth business – even this year’s annual fare rise has not discouraged 5 per cent more travellers from taking to the trains.

It’s a different story on the Continent, however. The national networks in France and Germany, once held up by critics here as examples that UK rail should copy, are reporting stagnant passenger numbers.

What makes it worse is that the traffic slump is being seen at their flagship high-speed ICE and TGV businesses, in which the governments of Germany and France have invested billions of euros.

What’s causing it?