Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

3rd October 2012

Rationalisation for Renationalisation
Posted by at 10.29pm | 1 response | In the News, Trains

British Rail logoJust after midnight the news came down that the new West Coast rail franchise has been cancelled due to “flaws” in the bidding process. The entire process will have to be restarted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds.

Richard Branson is thrilled, as are many customers of Virgin Trains – a company which has inexplicably become very popular since people realised it might be going away for ever.

Myself, I’m not particularly pleased either way. I hold no torch for Virgin (or FirstGroup) – I just want a national rail network that is reliable, comfortable and affordable; a good alternative to polluting cars and planes. The current system delivers this occasionally, but not consistently.

While it’s nice to see the Government admit, finally, that the current franchising system is a mess, I wish more radical solutions would be looked at beyond mere reform. In short, I think we should be looking at renationalisation of the passenger railway network.

This is not mere ideology at work: the figures speak for themselves. In 1994, inefficient lumbering British Rail received £1,627m in subsidy from Government. In 2005, the smart businessmen and entrepreneurs of the private sector got £4,593m. When inflation is taken into account, that is double the amount British Rail received. At the same time, the fares paid by passengers have also risen dramatically. BR was starved of funding and did the best it could. The private operators who took over have milked the system for every penny they can get.

It’s easy to look back at BR with rose-tinted glasses. It was far from perfect, but most of the time it provided a decent service, despite chronic underinvestment and indifference from Government. I’d like to see what British Rail could have done with the lavish subsidies paid out to the private railway operators over the past decade.

Labour are reportedly considering the possibility of renationalisation, should they get back into power at the next election. I am taking any such claims with a big pinch of salt. During their most recent spell in office, Labour never made any attempt at renationalisation. The reasons were perhaps understandable: by 1997 the breakup of British Rail was almost complete. Taking newly-created private businesses back into public ownership would perhaps have looked a bit too “socialist”.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to reverse privatisation at minimal cost. Most of the franchises on the National Rail network are up for renewal in the next five years. The franchises currently operated by First Great Western, c2c and First Capital Connect were supposed to be refranchised during 2013, but the “pause” on franchising, announced today, could delay them and other franchises significantly, perhaps even until after the next election in 2015.

So, as the franchises come up for renewal, it would be possible take them back into public ownership one at a time, and eventually recreate – as far as is practicable – the structure of British Rail’s passenger operations as they existed prior to privatisation.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I think it could and should be done. We need a unified railway, working in the best interests of the passenger and the taxpayer. We need an end to the buck-passing and finger-pointing between organisations. We need an end to corporate vested interests extracting millions from the taxpayer.

In short, we need this:

Tags: , , , ,

One Response
  1. Comment by Paul Cook
    4th October 2012 at 11:07 am

    Spot on, that man! And lets get Gas, Water, Electricity and the Buses back while we’re at it!