Renationalise the Railways 115


Railways are a natural monopoly. There is no genuine competition between providers. For many people, the privately owned railway service is the only practical way to get to work. We have the most expensive passenger fares in the world, and a negligible amount of freight sent by rail, despite absolutely astonishing subsides pair to the private railway companies – and mostly ejected straight out again as shareholders’ profits. I was hoping to give you a figure for the total subsidies private rail companies have received since the crazed system was set up, but I can’t find a reliable series of figures anywhere – can anyone help?

We also still have a rubbish service. Some nominal punctuality improvement has been made, largely by the ruse of making timetables themselves unambitious. A member of staff at Ramsgate station told me recently of an HS1 service which left Ramsgate 18 minutes late, but reached St Pancras on time. On 27 December I left Brussels 11 minutes late on a Eurostar and made Ashford one minute late. Giving a talk in Cardiff recently, the train from Paddington spent in total almost 20 minutes standing in stations to await shceduled departure. Many timetables, particularly around London, have in fact been worsened – the ordinary commuter service from Gravesend to Charing Cross for example is now scheduled to be eight minutes longer than it was when I used to get it every day in 1986. In other cases track, rolling stock and signalling improvements that make quicker journeys possible are ignored in the timetable, all to give that margin of leeway and avoid punctuality fines and refunds.

The last five railway journeys I have been on (excluding Eurostar) all had people standing or squatting in corridors.

We have a train service which is the most expensive in the world but is still arguably the least pleasant to use among developed nations, and is very slow when you compare similar journeys with our European counterparts. It is impossible credibly to argue that the crazed multiple contact privatisation model has worked.

Rail needs to be renationalised immediately.


115 thoughts on “Renationalise the Railways

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  • Suhayl Saadi

    “The reason people were so glad to see privatisation…” Julian.
    .
    Gosh, Julian, you must’ve been living in a completely different country from me. I don’t remember that at all. From what I recall, in the mid-1990s, privatisation of the railways was extremely unpopular and most people seemed to want it re-nationalised under the first Blair govt, as Richard suggests it ought to have been.
    .
    And my little own anecdotal experience is that the train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh now is stupendously absurd – over-crowded (because of there not being enough carriages at busy times) and over-priced.
    .
    North America is enormous and relatively underpopulated. Britain’s roads are already thick with cars and the population from Leeds, south, is densely-packed. A better comparator surely would be Western Europe.

  • boniface goncourt

    @sandman
    Most anecdotal tales of “nightmare journeys” seem to come from people who are unfamiliar with the rail infrastructure and end up buying the wrong ticket / boarding the wrong train / picking the wrong route etc. Even the simple matter
    of getting a seat is much less of a headache if you are a regular user and know which carriage is your best bet. Regular users also know the tricks to get the best fares.

    What an utterly boneheaded comment.

    So you want a rail service based on ‘tricks’? And ripoffs are…wait for it…the passenger’s own fault! ‘You don’t know our rule book? how very dare you! fine £75!’ You are of course aware that ticket collectors get a commission on every extra fare they extort from confused old ladies. Wizard free market fun.

    I remember British Rail. It was perfectly all right. I used to find the staff quite friendly. They knew their job, and where everything was. You could travel from Penzance to Perth, and the
    clerk knew all the route details. A clerk at Euston recently had never heard of Aberystwyth. Moreover, the BR fares were not a ripoff.

    I went round France a few years ago, by TGV. A dream trip. After every journey, you felt pleased at what good value it was. Say where you want to go, buy a ticket, done and dusted. Compare UK, where booking a rail ticket is like buying
    an air ticket to Patagonia. ‘London to Doncaster, eh?’ [whistles]. Hmm, you”ll be lucky. Let’s see…you could change at Scunthorpe at 5 AM on Shrove Tuesday…’

    Most people in Broken [by cowboy capitalism] Britain don’t realize what derision the shabbiness of the place inspires these days. Respect has been sacrifived to greed. The ripoff merchants don’t care what Britain looks like, as they live in sunny tax havens. Neoliberal Toryism means total lack of patriotism. Luckily, I don’t have to spend much time in UK, and when I do, a National Express coach gets me around in a friendly, reliable and cheap fashion.

  • Canspeccy

    @Boniface
    “I went round France a few years ago, by TGV. A dream trip. ”
    .
    Yeah, very nice. Largely yet to be paid for by the next generation of French citizens who will have to pick up the tab for the present generation’s crazy excesses in public expenditure.
    .
    Here’s one account of the “real horror” of SNCF finances.
    .
    When are Europeans going to wake up to the fact that they’re broke and cannot continue running gigantic deficits in the face of competition from people paid less than a tenth of European wages? Europe needs to cut, not piss away public funds providing comfortable and convenient transportation for the upper middle class — mainly the nomenklatura and the upper-tiers of the corporate establishment — who would be the prime users of a revamped high-speed nationalized rail service.
    .
    And if anyone says that the provision of excellent rail service can be consistent with a reasonable return on capital, let them explain why it is then necessary to nationalize the railways and, in the event of nationalization, how the public could be protected from the burden of subsidies, including hidden subsidies such as support the French railway service.

  • Mary

    You could not make it up. ZBC’s Jon Sopel is answering questions about Tony Blair on Celebrity Mastermind . Sopel’s chosen charity is Save the Children. Not those in Iraq perhaps.

  • Steve

    Agree with Mary, do the lot! They’ll not do one of them, though because they (career politicians) will then become accountable for performance. Not part of the gig anymore.

  • Scouse Billy

    Mary, that would be the same Save The Children that vaccinate immuno-deficient, malnourished children – unbelievably damaging, if not genocidal.

  • hip

    Im fairly certain i can trust Save the Children’s actual Doctors and Nurses to determine when vaccination is a good idea -for the pityful little children they actually try to treat and help – in their REAL lives. In fact i’m a bit outraged that you can speak so ill of them Scouse Billy. And this is OT. Balls.

  • Roderick Russell

    @ Suhayl Saadi. As you say one reason why there is less rail in North America is that “North America is enormous and relatively under populated.”
    *
    But in fact this is not quite the whole picture as, in the past 30 years, North American cities like Vancouver and Calgary have been building new light rail systems to serve commuters. Indeed I also heard that Canada’s long distance freight rail system has seldom been busier. It’s just that intercity passenger rail doesn’t make sense in North America since the distance between cities are too large for a rapid journey. Rail does make sense in the 21st century as an alternative to the highway system, and like the highways (that it competes with) it should be run by the public sector if, as in the UK, it has shown that that is the most cost effective business model.
    *
    Calgary, where I live, is a bastion of free market thought; yet I never heard anyone seriously suggest that its commuter rail system (called the LRT) should be other than run by the City. Chris’s comment “rail subsidies are now five times larger (in real terms) than they were at the time of privatization” just says it all.

  • glenn_uk

    Don’t tell me, Scouse Billy – vaccinations are also a fiendish plot designed to rake money off us fools for no good reason, right? And – again – almost every last scientist is in on the hoax too (because they’re after the money).

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Every time I’ve been on a train in the UK (or France, or any other European country), the majority of people on it appeared to be not “upper middle class”, but working class.
    .
    Degenerating into a sort of jungle state where people get peasant status might sound somewhat romantic (though I cannot imagine why) and might accord with an ideology that has destroyed much that was good about this country, but it will not help the economies of Europe. Proper public transport links are essential.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    I agree completely with 99% of that Craig.

    When you say “the ordinary commuter service from Gravesend to Charing Cross for example is now scheduled to be eight minutes longer than it was when I used to get it every day in 1986” though – Is it possible this is because it stops at more statiosn than it used to in 1986?

    To give a better train service to everyone some trains have to be a bit slower to stop at more stations.

  • Scouse Billy

    Fedup, it runs in his family – is it a coincidence that his family oil + Germab chemical industries merged to give us Pharma at the same time that his forbears were funding (taking control of) medical schools?
    .
    Imagine a UK politician saying:
    .
    “40% of medicare is spent in the last 6 months of life – so, is that a conversation worth having with your parents?”

  • hip

    I know my little nephews get a contentious amount of shots -it is a very complex topic. But what makes you feel entitled to accuse Save the Children Medics of terrible error in their truely harrowing and brilliant jobs? -and just start raking up a muddy field in a totally unrelated thread – on a very serious Human Rights blog? I dont think you give much of a shit about Human Rights. You are virtual crusader of your own mighty judgement, with little interest in Craigs or anyone elses. You should be plonked from here.

  • glenn_uk

    Hey Scouse Billy – I’ve got time for you, because you seem to be a decent fellow. I think you’ve got a good heart. But are you actually suggesting that inoculations are some kind of scam? Do you really think TB, polio, smallpox and so on have been almost eliminated as some coincidental factor with inoculation programmes?
    .
    Of course people make a buck out of every disaster, whether it concerns disease, health, the environment, or anything else. To observe some examples of crooks, shills and charlatans profiting off the matter, and then to conclude the underlying disaster is – in fact – bogus is ludicrous. You’re falling into the slippery pit of the Alex Jones crowd when you buy into such lines of reasoning. You appear prone to this.
    .
    The trick is to show you something you’d like to believe (eg, no such thing as man-made climate change/ inoculations are unnecessary and dangerous), and then show you corporate profiteers who are strongly against your thinking such subversive thoughts, and how the MSM is bought into the Big Lie. Then play up how the ‘courageous’ purveyors of truth (like yourself!) are up against The Machine.
    .
    It’s BS, Scouce Billy. Inoculations prevent miserable, preventable deaths in vast numbers. Personally, I’d like to campaign against miserable, preventable births – but that’s another story. Inoculations are real, they are necessary, and they work for the best in nearly all cases (like all aspects of genuine medical treatment). To say otherwise is recklessly propagating a dangerous falsehood.

  • boniface goncourt

    =For those who cannot drive, the best bet is a taxi.=

    That’s public transport sorted! Canspeccy you are the Buckminster Fuller de nos jours. But…gulp…what if….your taxi was driven… by a BLACK MAN???

  • Scouse Billy

    For goodness sake, Glenn, – you know the actual history of vaccines and the laughable C.18th “science” behind them?
    .
    Look up Vaccine Nation for Dr Gary Null’s well researched documentary on the subject:
    .
    “Weaving together interviews with many of the nations most expert medical researchers, private physicians specializing in autism, parents of children victimized by immunization, congressmen, vaccination activists, legal authorities and more, Vaccine Nation will awaken viewers to one of the continual perils to the health and future of children.” – that’s right, real doctors, “experts” and not a peep from Alex Jones 😉
    .
    Meanwhile, here’s some mad conspiraloon site that asks:
    .
    Just how tainted has medicine become?
    .
    http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2802%2908198-9/fulltext

  • David H

    Last I was in the UK, I found the rail staff very friendly and helpful but overworked on the front desks. There were such long queues to actually speak to somebody who knew something rather than deal with a slot-machine. Sign of the times though, I guess. And the tickets were quite confusing. A very helpful young guy on the desk at one small station started to explain why is was better for me to get a return ticket to a place I didn’t want to go rather than a single to the place I did want to go. Never mind, I said, just give me the ticket I want. Well, it’s going to cost you 100 pounds instead of 50, he replied. OK then, I said, let’s do it your way…
    .
    Anyway, that’s by the by. People should be sensible about transport rather than idealistic / nostalgic. Nationalized or privatized (and both have been tried), if trains can’t compete on efficiency with coaches then the coaches should be subsidised, the cash can be spent on something else, and trains can be left for inner-city commuter routes and freight. Did Sir what’s his name with the fancy CV come up with a clear plan explaining how trains could be made more efficient under public ownership? No? Then don’t waste loads more money trying!

  • Do you think we're stupid?

    Canspeccy
    .
    Here’s one account of the “real horror” of SNCF finances.
    .
    Your link is over ten years old, sweetie. Given away by the fact they talk about francs.

  • Nat-Rail-Plz

    I’d like to see the Railways nationalised also. And like Mary, I’d like to see all the other crown jewels that were sold off for the long terms benefit of the rich with only a short ‘high’ for the ordinary man of the street.
    .
    My UK home is quite rural but we are lucky to have a train line taking us directly into Manchester (which numerous other local communities benefit from too). It is a lifeline, although a bit pricey. But still, relative to a car, it’s much much better. I dread the thought that it may be axed one day like what happened to the steel producing towns in NE England which also used to have train lines going into the provincial capitol.
    .
    It would be expensive to upgrade the UK rail network, but it’s sorely needed. Double/triple decker trains, Increased safety features, Increased services, better ticketing etc. But I really can’t imagine any of that happening OUTSIDE the state sector. Capitalism seems to furnishes booms (in all sectors) to be unavoidable followed by crashes, the severity of the latter growing disproportionately larger than the former as the cycles unfurl.
    .
    The UK is becoming even more grotty, embroiled in a state of decay where the entropic smile of the masters broadens with the passage of time.
    .
    I see no escape.

  • Leonard

    Often not mentioned on this subject is the selling off of billions of pounds worth of infrastructure, buildings and property when the rail network was privatised. None of the vast profit from this asset stripping excercise ended up in the pockets of the former owner of the railways – the tax payer.
    .
    The business model of the network and rail services are geared towards a risk-free enteprise for the owners and continued vast subsidy from the public just as it was before privatisation. The tax payer is bank rolling the business but gets nothing back.
    .
    The same more or less applies to nearly all privatised former national assets and businesses.
    .
    New Labour in this regard was as Thatcherite, perhaps even more so, as the conservatives were when the privatisation frenzy began. Even hardened tory voting passengers are aware that they have been fleeced. The same applies to BT.

  • Vronsky

    Anything which is (a) a basic necessity and (b) inescapably a monopoly should be nationalised. This leads to a fairly long list of candidates for renationalisation. Given the record of the privatised railways and utilities in ripping off the consumer, nationalisation without compensation would be fair.
    .
    @glenn/billy
    In general vaccination is trending to be business-led, with the drug companies in the USA lobbying to have certain immunisation programs made compulsory. Billions of taxpayers’ money was wasted on stocking up flu vaccines, assisted by alarmist media reporting. Many drugs are tested only by labs funded by the drug companies and there is evidence of studies which were unsupportive being suppressed. So while I can’t comment on the rights or wrongs of the Save the Children programme, it is at least clear that there can be no presumption in favour of vaccination.
    .
    http://anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com/

  • ingo

    Are we playing the same game than the BBc for the last three days. ot a word about the Euro, economics and/or the dire situation in the ME, not a peep. Wall to wall coverage of neocon politics and of every nook and cranny of the Stephen Lawrence case, with those police men, not strolling around HMQ’s backgarden looking for the murder of an as yet unidentified woman, trying to make out strenuously that racialism has been receding since the McPherson report and Jack Straws recinding of double jeopardy laws. A criminal white working class family was protected by the police for near three weeks before they even started looking, Stephens mother was right when she said’ this could have all be sorted 16 years ago.
    Then we have a PM waxing lyrically about our amazing Olympic bid in his new year address, that it will be hard this year, although not for the like’s of him or Osborne’s catnip racket, and jalla gibber jalla.

    We are being subjected to a massive news management exercise and I expect us soon to prepare, in each and every aspect, for the royal jubilee and the Olympics, a pesky war in the ME should not detract from all this brilliance.

    Had my fill of it and shall not debate institutional racismn as it still exists and/or the chances of candidates/puppets lead by the nose to confuse US voters, nowt to do with this country unless Iowa lies between Norfolk and Lincolnshire and I have not spotted it.

  • Clanger

    Craig, in this month’s ASLEF journal there is an article titled “Planning Ahead – Rail Choices For The Future”. Unfortunately, it does not yet appear to be available on their website. The article claims that since privatisation, at least £11 billion has been misspent on debt write-offs, dividend payments,fragmentation costs including profit margins of complex tiers of contractors and sub-contractors, and higher interest payments designed to keep Network Rail’s debts off the government’s balance sheet. These are only the readily quantafiable costs. The real costs are much higher but difficult to quantify: e.g. excess payment on rolling stock company debt, poor cost control,excessive bonus payments and salaries for senior managers, costs of bidding for franchises, awarding them then rebranding when a new company takes over, bail-outs of failing operators, unplanned costs arising from over-complexity and unpaid tax.
    The fact is that privatisation has been a boon to wealthy investors, banks and lawyers. Union bashers and haters of the working class might like to know that productivity of staff has increased considerably under privatisation to the benefit of shareholders but noone else. The company I work for contracts hundreds of lawyers every year to claw back costs from Network Rail in relation to delay attribution and NR does the same; completely absurd. Another example of waste happened several years ago. Anyone in the Southeast will remember Connex. They were owned by a French water firm. When they received a huge bail-out from the government this money was used to prop up Universal Studios in the USA which was owned by the same company.
    I am sick to death of the mainstream media continually blaming railway staff for the failings of the network. I personally, like most of my colleagues could not give a damn who we work for; a change of franchise means a change of uniform, the job remains the same except we occasionally get managers from outside the industry who think they can cut costs in the way they do at supermarkets without realizing that the railway is more complex and safety orientated than most from outside the industry care to imagine.

  • Clark

    ScouseBilly, are you claiming that no vaccines work? If you don’t have your dog inoculated against distemper, there’s a high chance it’ll die from it; I’ve known three examples, and never one in an inoculated dog. Purely anecdotal, I know.

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