Monday, 3 October 2016

Double Arrow Hits The Target

Why do supporters of rail privatisation continue to jeer at British Rail?

Before privatisation, BR was an extremely well-run organisation, running a surprisingly good service on a much smaller subsidy than the one now given to the privatised operators.

It successfully completed the electrification of the London to Edinburgh line. Compare with the delayed, over-budget mess of the current electrification of the Paddington line.

Its track maintenance was of a high quality not maintained after privatisation, as we all found to our cost at the turn of the century.

Railtrack, or ‘Failcrack’ as I dubbed it, has now, in effect, been renationalised as Network Rail. But it’s still not as good as BR was at maintaining track and at big modernising projects.

There’s no reason to believe that the increase in traffic which happened after, but not because of, privatisation would not have happened under BR. 

And if BR had received the subsidies given to private train operators, much more of the money would have spent on railways and trains, and much less on making various individuals rich.

I cannot see how a franchise to run a system based on taxpayer subsidy is real risk-taking business. If it were, I doubt that anyone would step forward to run it.

Many have indeed walked away from their franchises.

One thing I do associate with privatisation, and suspect is linked to it, is the cramming of passengers into smaller and smaller spaces.

The habit of shoving in as many seats as possible, and no longer lining them up with windows, seems to have begun around the time that privatisation happened.

So does the provision of shorter, smaller trains of three, four or five coaches on routes which used to be served by trains of eight full-sized Inter-City carriages.

I wonder if it saves fuel and other costs, so directly increasing revenue.

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