There has been lots of complaining in the press about higher train fares after it was revealed that ticket prices could go up by an average of 8% in January 2012, with some routes going up by nearer 13%. It has been suggested that the cumulative effect of these rises will see prices jump 30% on some routes over the next three years.
The Government says that this is necessary to reduce state subsidies and provide funds for investment in the railways. However, if the government was really serious about reducing the burden on the taxpayer, it would acknowledge the elephant in the room: British railway privatisation has failed.
When I say failed, I mean it has failed to deliver any of the wonderful benefits that we were promised. We were promised freedom from state control – in practice, Department for Transport civil servants now micromanage nearly every aspect of today’s railway. We were promised more value for the taxpayer – state subsidies for the railway have increased dramatically. We were promised better services – the results have been inconsistent at best, and the improvements that have taken place could have been achieved by British Rail, had the political will and funding been there.
What is so frustrating is that the Labour government could have easily fixed this. By the time Labour swept into power in May 1997, the privatisation process was almost complete. However, with their huge majority, Labour could have easily reversed the privatisation. The Government could have taken the drastic step of legislating to immediately renationalise, or it could have taken the easier option of letting each franchise run its course and renationalising each as it came to an end. Had they done this, by now most of the railway would have been back under state control.
Sadly, the Labour party desperately wanted to avoid being seen as an anti-business, socialist party, so the privatised railway structure remained largely intact with only some minor tweaking. Now the Tories are back in charge, and more wide-ranging reform will probably happen – reform that will almost certainly not benefit the average fare-paying passenger.