There are calls to renationalise the railway. People think the Government have the expertise to run a railway. People think the Government could have the efficiencies to continue the expansion and major projects ongoing to ensure our railway is modern, safe and handles the huge passenger growth. (Passenger growth that came about following privatisation. There was little growth during British Rail’s last days as they kept a steady state approach hence the need for radical upgrades now). People think the Government would also order 100’s of extra vehicles so everyone can have a carriage each at rush hour. Finally people think the Government can do all this and at the same time reduce fares and cut public spending on the railways. Seriously?!? Tell me which party will deliver this and they have my vote!
The truth of the matter is Government can’t and shouldn’t run industries. The post WW2 mass State intervention was required to rebuild a nation and economy destroyed in war. Those with romantic visions of British Gas, British Rail, British Coal and lots of other state run industries would do well to remember none of these we’re that much better under state control then their privatised counterparts are today! The Government isn’t here to run industry and nor does it have some magical wand to wave to solve all the railways problems. There are reforms needed in the privatised industry but renationalising is a ridiculous suggestion. Should the Government nationalise Asda to reduce food prices? Do we want a state planning on former USSR terms?
The truth of the matter is that railways are bloody expensive to run. Railway operators are not coining it in and you would be surprised at how much of their profit gets ploughed back into schemes to improve their network. A network which they may not still operate when their franchise expires so they do bear brunt a great deal of risk. Network Rail who run and manage track and infrastructure are practically a state run department with no shareholders to please. The actual people running the railway have not changed under privatisation too much. The Directly operated railways (government run) East Coast franchise is held up as an example of how good a nationalised railway would be when actually their customer service is a tad worse then GNER days, the fantastic new timetable they run has been under development for years and incorporates a great deal of imaginary public advertising time to cover up poor performance. Future developments on the ECML such as IEP are also not initiatives of directly operated railways.
Railways then will then always need public subsidy because there are always going to be vital socially necessary services that do not offer any operator whether private or public any incentive to run but are deemed necessary. ( it’s either a train /bus or the Government provide everyone in these areas with a car to reduce inequality). Equally the fare box will always need topping up to cover the costs of upgrades, development and new rolling stock to play catch up from BR days and to cope with the growth but I am confident new technologies, reforming the current set up and curbing greedy union demands will eventuality break even.
If you still think the state run model is best for the UK just look at France. State run SNCF and it’s infrastructure arm RFF are up to their eyes in debt. The unions taking advantage of a national system have brought the whole country to a stand for the past week and so much for Government led efficiency they order 200 trains that were not compatible with the infrastructure.
I’m all for Government directing overall rail strategy and policy to ensure an integrated railway ( as PTE’s are very good at with private bus operators – incidentally when was the last time you wanted buses renationalised?). A very simple solution to peak time overcrowding is flexible employment. Does everyone have to arrive in the city at 830 am? If peak rail demand was more spread out then extra costly rolling stock would not be required. Bear in mind the likes of South West Trains and Southern run so many empty 12 car trains during the interpeak just to satisfy demand for an hour a day in each direction? This is an area where Government policy could interfere.
And if you are still not convinced, please don’t vote Labour because you think they will renationalise the railways. Remember Tony Blair’s new Labour could have reversed privatisation in 1997 but chose not to. Imagine how bad you would feel if the railways were still in the private sector and you were also responsible for installing another Labour administration.