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.