Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Simon Jenkins on the railway

Simon Jenkins has an article in today's Guardian on he privatisation of British Rail. He takes much the same line as I did the other day.
Within seven years the railway was costing the taxpayer three times what it had cost before de-nationalisation (up from £1.3bn to £3.7bn). The historians Terry Gourvish and Christian Wolmar have charted the subsequent shambles as probably the worst case of Whitehall mismanagement of a British industry since 1945 (a competitive contest). In the 1980s fares covered 76% of rail costs, last year 42%. The government has restructured the industry three times, so it is renationalised in all but name, operating a myriad complex Whitehall sub-contracts. Virgin's east coast route, profitable under British Rail, runs on a subsidy of £400m a year, half what the whole of BR cost in 1989.
Jenkins also comes to the right conclusion:
The Tories are now rightly reluctant to reverse public ownership of Network Rail's assets of track, signals and stations. These were not privatised under the 1993 Act but subsequently with the setting up of Railtrack. They were crudely renationalised by Byers under Network Rail, in a procedure that led him through the high court. They should stay that way. The proposal now is to split Network Rail's assets under lease between the five big regional franchises so they can manage "wheel and rail" as a coherent whole. For this to work, the operators must have franchises of at least 20 years, possibly 50. The Treasury's preference for five to seven years is commercially illiterate.

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