… but blaming underinvestment – not the privatisation process which was supposed to lead to MORE investment:
“When Grant Shapps was appointed secretary of state for transport last month, he used social media to express his view of the railway network that had become his responsibility. “As a very frustrated 6 trains per day commuter for the past few years, I’m delighted to be appointed transport secretary,” he wrote. He used a screaming-face emoji to convey his horror of travelling by train from his constituency of Welwyn, which was hit by the Thameslink timetable chaos last year.
Mr Shapps’ dread of British trains will be shared by many who rely on the network. Trains in Britain are often extortionately priced, delayed and overcrowded. Compensation forms are too complex. By proportion of salary, British commuters pay five times as much for tickets as the rest of Europe. Little wonder then that passengers (including those who are old enough to remember a pitiful state-run railway industry) are coming out in favour of renationalisation. A poll last year showed that 64 per cent of the public favoured taking the network back into public hands.
Yesterday, the future of Britain’s rail system was cast into further doubt when the government scrapped a competition to run Southeastern, one of the country’s busiest commuter lines. Mr Shapps cancelled the process amid concerns over escalating costs and uncertainty that the operator would achieve benefits for passengers. His decision calls into question other contracts, including the forthcoming competition to run trains on HS2 and the west coast mainline.
Passengers frustrated with Britain’s second-rate railways crave a dramatic solution. In contrast to its constructive ambiguity over Brexit, Labour’s position on the railway network appears clear. If elected the party would bring rail franchises back into public ownership when they expired, if not before.
Yet nationalisation would not release the railways from the morass they find themselves in. The network was beset with problems when it was privatised under John Major’s government after years of underinvestment. To nationalise now would cost a fortune. Taxpayers already bear a large burden of the costs, given that Network Rail, which runs the country’s tracks and biggest stations, is publicly owned. To expect taxpayers to foot the whole bill would be unfair.
Instead, improvements must be made urgently to the system we already have. A review of the railways led by Keith Williams, the former chief executive of British Airways, is expected to be published this year. Mr Williams has previously proposed that a “Fat Controller-type” figure should oversee the day-to-day running of services. That is worth exploring, but he must offer ways to tackle two significant problems facing the rail industry right now.
First, the unsatisfactory relationship between tracks and trains. At present trains run on tracks that operators have no responsibility for. It is the passenger, ultimately, who pays for the lack of joined-up thinking. Second, the problem of dwindling competition. When companies were first allowed to bid for rail franchises they did so in their droves. Now, as few as two companies typically bid to run a franchise, leading to slipping standards. The Department for Transport issues detailed demands for operators, setting out the number of trains they must run per hour. Operators are being micromanaged. Yet overcrowding, disruption and high prices mean that growth in passenger numbers has slowed. The time has come to give them more freedom to innovate.
Mr Shapps should focus now not on cancelling other contests to run rail services, but on making the current system fit for purpose. The public’s faith in the country’s privatised rail network is waning. It is up to the government to remind passengers of why nationalisation is not the solution.”
Source:Times (pay wall)