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.

30th January 2011

Shropshire Star
Posted by at 6.18pm | Trains | 2 responses

On Friday, the UK rail industry said goodbye to the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway Company, which was killed off after its parent company concluded that it would never turn a profit.

Wrexham and Shropshire train interiorI never experienced the joys of this company’s trains, although I’d hoped to try and arrange a ride sometime this year (procrastination FAIL).

The new Wrexham-Marylebone service was launched in 2008, restoring direct trains to London from Wrexham, forty years after they were withdrawn. For passengers, WSMR promised a railway experience akin to that of yesteryear, using refurbished ex-BR coaches with a spacious, roomy layout. Cooked meals, freshly prepared on board (no microwaved bacon baps here) were served at your seat. All this for far less than the fares of rival operator, Virgin Trains.

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28th June 2010

Taking the strain
Posted by at 9.35pm | Trains | No responses

Merseytravel seem quite pleased that new transport secretary Philip Hammond is to pay Liverpool a visit to speak at the National Rail Conference in a couple of weeks time.

Mr Hammond will reportedly deliver a speech on the cuts that are about to be imposed on the railway. Hopefully some of the other speakers at the conference will take the opportunity to school him about basic railway principles, including why trains get priority at level crossings.

The government is planning to slash the amount of subsidy directed at the railways. This has resulted in a swathe of projects being cancelled: the station improvement programme announced last year has been abandoned, with Liverpool Central’s refurbishment hanging on by the skin of its teeth. The Liverpool to Manchester electrification looks doomed as well.

Of course, you can only go so far with cuts, and it looks like the railways will need to find the money somewhere else. As is often the case, the long-suffering passenger will pay: the newspapers are full of warnings of steep fare rises.

It’s fair to complain about the amount of taxpayers money being swallowed up by the railways, but I’m annoyed that no-one ever mentions reforming the insane mess that is the privatised railway system. Privatisation promised a new era of efficiency; instead we got endless red tape and bureaucracy. A lot of the taxpayer’s money is being used to fund the profits of the private companies, rather than being invested in services.

But any meaningful reform seems to have been filed under “too hard”, so instead the government will screw the passengers and allow the gravy train to roll on. Nobody will benefit in the long run, except perhaps those with shares in Stagecoach, FirstGroup and Arriva.