Monday, July 17, 2006

How the Tories ruined our railways

Travelling home from work with an old friend who knows about such things, I learnt that the Department for Transport is planning to halve Market Harborough's off-peak rail services. As a result is that I spent some time handing out leaflets at Harborough station when we got there.

Note that the decision has not been made by Midland Mainline, who run the trains, but the DfT. It has been said that the railways our now more closely managed by government than they were during the Second World War.

This is the ironic result of the Tories' privatisation of British Rail and - in particular - their insistence on separating the operators of the trains from the people who own the rails. We Lib Dems are used to demanding more public spending, but the problem with the privatised system is that it swallows money (far more than British Rail ever needed) at an alarming rate. It is no wonder that the Treasury has tried to get some control over this, but in the process it has stripped any prospect of entrepreneurial flair from the train operators out of the system.

So this is why a booming town like Market Harborough - now firmly in the London commuter belt - is threatened with having its rail services cut. This decision is a nonsense, but even if our campaign to have the current level of service included in the new franchise documents succeeds, many people elsewhere will suffer.

Today the Tory transport spokesman Chris Grayling said:

"We think, with hindsight, that the complete separation of track and train into separate businesses at the time of privatisation was not right for our railways.

"We think that the separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways - and hence fares - and is now slowing decisions about capacity improvements.

"Too many people and organisations are now involved in getting things done - so nothing happens. As a result, the industry lacks clarity about who is in charge and accountable for decisions."

"Hindsight" my arse. Though few realised quite how bad things would be, there were plenty of people telling John Major's government that its privatisation would be a disaster at the time.

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