Robert Hampton

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3rd October 2012

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

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.

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17th August 2011

Not fare
Posted by at 9.43pm | Trains | No responses

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.

21st April 2010

Nation building
Posted by at 5.05pm | Trains | No responses

The German state railway operator DB Regio is poised to take over Spanish-sounding but resolutely British company Arriva, adding the latter’s bus and train operations to a portfolio which includes Chiltern Railways, the Tyne & Wear Metro and stakes in WSMR and London Overground.

DB have been quietly building a small empire in the UK public transport world, and they’re not the only one. Abellio, part of Dutch state rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen, own a 50% stake of Merseyrail and Northern Rail. Meanwhile, French operator SNCF, via its Keolis subsidiary, is a partner in the Transpennine Express franchise. Keolis also hold a minority stake in Govia who operate three rail franchises.

Turns out Britain’s railways are being nationalised — it’s just different nations who are in charge.