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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  • Clark

    Clanger, thanks for an insider’s view.
    .
    Expanding and improving the rail system; isn’t that what used to be called “investing in infrastructure”? Isn’t a good rail system supposed to have tangible benefits for an economy? I never see any figures for that; all that ever seems to be mentioned is how much it costs, and that seems to be much too high. Well, all that money is going somewhere, and certain parties are very happy to receive it. Methinks the private sector sometimes complains too much!

  • Komodo

    Happy New Year to Craig and his band, and better things for 2012. Now take a look at the US primaries, if you can bear to….
    .
    Someone was asking for evidence that the railways performed better under nationalisation. He’s probably too young to remember this, but, perhaps incredibly, we had a single system with a single integrated national timetable (no fights between competing companies for a line owned by someone else, no delays to Company X as a result of Company Y’s (Virgin) incompetence). You bought your ticket at the station, for a set price, and got on the train. Simple concept, eh? There was enough legroom, and a measure of privacy was often available. The fares were certainly much more affordable, in real terms, and sending freight by rail was not then an impossible dream. Want more?

  • Rob Royston

    Clanger, You are correct. I probably only do about a dozen rail journeys a year, but I am affected by the failings more than once in such a few journeys. The standards are good as far as the equipment and railstaff are concerned. The problems I’ve suffered were all caused by political interference in the cancelling of trains that did intermediate stops and even running some trains without stopping anywhere in between so that they could say they arrived on time at the destination. This was usually after an earlier delay caused by a points failure or staff not showing up.

    They would sooner leave some of their customers standing in the cold for almost two hours as they cancel and do fast run throughs so that they get the maximun brownie points from the stupid regulations. I know it’s not easy, but I’m sure they could join two trains into one and stop at all stations to get the people where they want to be before they attempt to get the timetable back “on track”.

  • Mary

    I was looking up Transport for London Clark in connection with the sorry state of the Hammersmith flyover closed for the duration because of saltw water corrosion of the suspension cables within the structure.
    .
    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/boardandchiefofficers/1432.aspx
    .
    You see the usual cross connections such as the Olympics, banking inc Goldman Sachs, the privatised rail industry and unbelievably Steven Norris of bankrupt Jarvis plc and failed track maintenance fame at Potters Bar is also on board. Talk about jobs for the boys and girls.
    .
    RIP
    Austen Kark, 75 (his wife, writer Nina Bawden, was badly injured)
    Emma Knights, 29
    Chia-hsin Lin, 29
    Alexander Ogonwusi, 42
    Agnes Quinlivan, 80
    Jonael Schickler, 25
    Chia-Ching Wu, 30

  • Matt0

    The pattern is becoming even clearer; investors are draining every drop of life out of the British Economy in support of their gambling habits. When they lose at the table, like the addicts they are they look to the wage slaves to provide their capital. All this with the help and support of their Tory puppets. Rather than gathering in the billions of unpaid tax by large corpororations they would rather impose draconian conditions on the self employed struggling to feed their families. reminiscent of Tsarist Russia?

  • Mary

    The TFL Commissioner and the MD both came from FirstGroup. The MD Leon Daniels has overall responsibility for London’s surface transport and issued a very wordy press release on the flyover problems the other day. Its closure is causing massive congestion.
    .
    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/1434.aspx
    .
    FirstGroup ‘run’ many of the country’s privatised trains and buses and are shedding their First Great Western contract. Old I. K. Brunel must be spinning in his grave.
    .
    North American interests too I see.{http://www.firstgroup.com/corporate/our_company/}

  • anno

    I rarely use trains, but I was consulted about the new line from London to Birmingham which will pass under a bridge at the end of the road in Saltley where the maintenance depot is going to go.
    A typical UK consultative exercise in which the landowning classes on Green Belt areas or SSI will be compensated with billions, but us city dwellers just get a different train passing down an existing line.
    Why do they not re-shape the east end of Birmingham with a new local commuting line to shuttle travellers into various locations in Birmingham? Our city would benefit from commuter housing near the terminal, where there is at present nothing more than gas works and a power station and an empty LDV wasteland.
    Not only do our politicians have no imagination but they completely ignore the rest of us whose imaginations are fertile and creative. This is a British disease of managerial arrogance against fellow humans further down the political food chain.
    Thomas Telford would not only have sorted the nimbies with tunnels for their pony paddocks but made something to look forward to arriving at the other end.
    Obviously I have a vested interest in my area being beautified.
    Muslim travellers could step out of the train and refresh themselves in the new 2000 person mosque being built behind my back garden instead of going to the toilet on the train.
    There are no prayer facilities in central Birmingham near New Street Station.
    Go to Istanbul or Manchester and see what they are doing for the city traveller. We are totally inhibited by the vested interests of a small minority of traders who can only see their city as a shopping centre, forgetting that Birmingham was once a centre of Creativity and Design.

  • anno

    In other words, why do they worry about the mushrooms in the pony paddocks and not about the mushrooms whose heads they shovel manure on in Birmingham?

  • Clanger

    It’s just a big gravy merry-go-round. The current boss of First Group, Tim O’Toole used to run the underground. In under less than a year he rewarded his efforts with a £1,000,000 bonus. I’ve never understood why we feel the need to get North Americans in to run public transport when our continental European neighbours seem to have it sussed out.

  • Clark

    “Both crashes [Ladbroke Grove and Southall] would have been prevented by an operational ATP (Automatic Train Protection) system, but wider fitting of this had been rejected on cost grounds”.
    .
    Totals for both crashes together:
    38 dead
    659 injured
    .
    Still, that’s less than a week’s carnage from the roads.

  • Scouse Billy

    Mary, thank you – that’s a very good link re. vaccines.
    .
    Clark, your example on dogs may be correct – I have no knowledge regarding distemper vaccines.
    .
    Anecdotally, my brother informed me that a greyhound owner he knows who had been desperate – his dog had cancer and the vet had given up on him, had tried Dr Simoncini’s NaHCO3 treatment.
    The tumour has almost gone and the greyhound is again full of energy. The point being, medical science doesn’t have all the answers and has been skewed toward pharmaceutical “solutions”.

  • anno

    What do senior New Labour M.P.s do with their time out of office?
    Think about the redevelopment of their run-down constituencies where only the jobcentres are flat out processing redundant people? Liam Byrne is the most useless piece of gravy=training trash of the last government. As I told him to his face before they lost the last election. All he is doing is managing the massive portfolio of shares and investments he acquired in his time managing Downing Street and camouflaging illegal wars against the Muslims.
    That’s what the new service to London should be called, the Gravy Train. No hotels, no flats, no metro-buses, no jobs, no hope for Birmingham. It’s just convenient for Londoners to be able to come here and scuttle back in the shortest possible time.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    ‘Rail needs to be renationalised immediately.’
    .
    Whereas I agree with you, how would you think nationalisation will improve current rail mess? Why would civil servants improve timetable or run more trains so that passengers experience more comfortable joinery?

  • Clanger

    Nationalisation would improve the rail system by cutting out the huge costs that I outlined in a previous comment. I can’t see how re-nationalising would be feasable however. Who is going to reimburse the crooks who currently run the railways? If their franchises were allowed to run out without renewal, the TOCs would neglect the service (even more than they do now), and the govt. would have an unholy mess to tidy up. Even in public hands, like any monopoly, you can’t expect great efficiency as like any other monopoly, the rail industry is riddled with the cancer of freemasonry.

  • Clark

    “Medical science doesn’t have all the answers and has been skewed toward pharmaceutical “solutions””.
    .
    I entirely agree. It has also been warped away from prevention where regulation would impact profits, even in different sectors.
    .
    I like the idea of vaccination. It sounds like it should work, it works with the immune system, it’s lasting, and properly implemented it should be cheap and save on remedial treatment later. None of that means that the practice isn’t abused.
    .
    I’m not convinced that dogs need all those regular booster shots, though I’ve had them given as it isn’t a matter I can effectively investigate.

  • Abe Rene

    What an excellent idea! May it be part of your manifesto next time you sytand for MP. Demonstrators need to chant “Bring Back British Rail!”

  • anno

    Uzbo
    New Labour nationalised employment itself. They did not need new services or factories to be created in order to justify creating jobs and paying people. They relied on pure Keynsian theory, that they could recycle the wasted money through VAT and other taxes.

    It’s a bit like my design problem with an air-source heat pump for heating a mosque’s hot water. You heat the mosque with a gas boiler, then you extract heat from the air with electricity for the heat pump, so you have to heat the air a second time.
    If you don’t actually create a job or create an environment where the seedlings of a job can grow, you end up paying twice.
    The fatuous New Labour government made so many petty rules for businesses in the construction industry that they cannot survive the frost of a recession. The rules were set up to create quangos and jobs for the boys on the backs of people doing real things.
    Government should issue a technical guideline, legislate it and then spend money policing it. Not, issue a technical advice, get the businesses to pay for it, and not police it. The problem of our country is this something-for-nothing idea that government can be delegated to private management, paid for by the beneficiaries.
    Government does not police its own legislation any more and the managers eat up all the cash. There is nothing wrong with the people who sort out the tracks, the trains, the timetables. there is something very wrong with the process of government when management is seen as source of employment and hence a source of tax, rather than a system of governing.
    Keynsian economic theory is the problem. Civil servants don’t have a useful function in managing rail companies, but under Keynsian theory, they can be employed to fill troughs for the tax pigs to scoff.

  • Abe Rene

    PS.
    1. There’s a good cheap slow train (“London Midland”)from London to the Midlands, which I’ve used a couple of times, costing a fraction of the regular cost – so what if the coaches aren’t luxurious and it takes an extra 45 minutes?
    2. Are trains in the UK really more expensive than in Japan or Denmark? I’ve heard that these are very expensive cities.

  • Murder most fowl

    Sooty – I’m going to Goodwin.

    During the last war, many people became convinced thought that the Nazis were going to kill lots of civilians, including Jews.

    What could be done?

    By most people nothing. It might be God’s will, or mankind’s, but, without power and resources … Most of us are in that position today in the face of illness

    A few, with the power, would do their job – it might be well paid – and save those they can. Wallenberg did this in 1945; many doctors and scientists do this now for the ill.

    A few – bad people – make every penny they can from those in trouble in order to save them. Much of Big Pharma is like that to-day; concentrating on drugs that are profitable (If only I could cure hair-loss; it’s much more profitable than curing malaria). For what it’s worth, vaccines are not that profitable; much more is made from Viagra.

    Finally, there are the evil ones, who take as much money and valuables from the desperate as those who are merely bad, but who know that they will not save anyone. The evil deceive the desperate by claiming a magic potion or invisibility cloak or underground railroad will save them, but know that none of this works and the condemned will die anyway. Today, these are the homoeopaths, the anti-vaxers, the supporters of the Burzynski clinic (ITV and the Observer). I am not sure if it makes any difference if the evil honestly believe that what they say is true; consider the evangelist that assures you (donation please) that if you only believe, then your amputated leg will grow again (and why are there no artificial legs at Lourdes among the crutches?)

    And which are you, conspeccy?

    Murder most Fowl

  • MJ

    “how would you think nationalisation will improve current rail mess?”
    .
    Firstly by rationalising timetables, ticketing and pricing, replacing the current shambles.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    @ Clanger
    .
    I read your earlier comment. It is quite informative but I still do not see how and why nationalised rail will provide better services. If you ever come across anything that is run by the government you might understand my concerns. I am not saying that rail divided between dozens of greedy private companies is better BUT I see no better nationalised rail either. Fares might become slightly cheaper but then knowing how government likes taking money out of our pockets and giving them to Goldman Sachs alike I would not bit on cheaper fares.
    .
    All misspendings you listed you can find them in a budget of almost any Whitehall ministry. Public money are even easier to misspend than private.
    .
    I agree that railways are currently run by crooks with huge bonuses while thousands are being laid off but what better management could come from Labour/Tory crooks?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    @ Anno
    .
    Whereas I agree with most of what you said I see nowhere in Keynesian theory that defends bubble based economy. In my understanding the real problem with New Labours is that they have been keen supporters of then popular deregulations (something I think Keynes did not favour). On the other hand one could also argue that they have created the biggest state apparatus in the UK history (probably to employ as many pencil pushers as possible) as like you correctly said there were less and less jobs in real economy.

  • Demeter

    @ glenn_uk @4 Jan, 2012 – 2:24 am

    Totally agree, SB talks BS! Buys into all the lunatic fringe arguments.

  • Mary

    O/T If you wondered what had happened to Yates of the Yard….
    .
    ‘Two former police chiefs from the US and Britain have brought discernible Western “expertise” to the Bahraini force only weeks following their appointments – a surge in repression and state terrorism.
    .

    Former Miami police chief John Timoney and his British counterpart, John Yates, formerly commander at London’s Scotland Yard, were assigned last month by Bahrain’s royal rulers to “oversee reform” of the Persian Gulf kingdom’s security forces. Officially, the appointment of the American and Briton was to bring Western professional policing to the Bahraini force and specifically to upgrade the human rights record of Bahrain’s ministry of interior and National Security Agency.’
    .
    /..
    Bahrain: Crushing Pro-Democracy Protests. American and British Police Chiefs Step Up State Repression
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28452

  • Mary

    I am very sorry Clark. You can imagine how terrible the injuries were when so many were only identified by their dental records.
    .
    As for comparing the death and injury toll to that on the roads, surely the point is that deaths on railways are completely avoidable and preventable. Thousands and thousands of half ton lumps of metal being driven by individuals at high speed, and soon to be higher, are statistically bound to have collisions.

  • anno

    Uzbek
    Thanks. I don’t what they call it. It is not a responsible way of managing the country. It’s like leaving the wheel of a train you are supposed to be driving and going for a smoke out the back.
    You have to police what you make laws for, not let managers do whatever they like.
    In Divorce Law in the late 1970s they decided to not put blame in divorce. The result is that children were often allocated to the parent who has behaving unreasonably by committing adultery. The removal of simple safeguards, if it was done for the sake of saving money, has in fact with respect allowed the whole train of society to crash.

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