Saturday, June 23, 2018

Why Tim Farron is more efficient than the privatised railways

The Financial Times has been to the Lake District and covered Tim Farron's success in restoring a service to the line from Oxenholme to Kendal and Windermere when Northern Rail could not run one.

Tim told the paper's reporter:
"It was a real window into the fragmentation of the railways. How could we do in a weekend what Northern and the Department for Transport could not? If you have got the will to make things happen you can make it happen.”
I wouldn't underestimate Tim's will, but his first point is the most important one. The management of the railways is now impossibly complicated.

When John Major first decided to privatise the railways (something Margaret Thatcher had always shied away from) his instinct was to recreate the Big Four companies of his boyhood.

But the money men and ideologues got to him and we ended up with the railways being run as much like the air travel industry as possible. Not only was the track owned by a different company from the ones that ran the trains: those trains were owned by other companies and leased to the people who ran them.

With so many joins, the system leaked money all over the place. So government had to step in, with the result that the system is now more centrally controlled than it ever was under British Rail. New trains are now chosen by civil servants, not railway people.

I often hear British Rail condemned by people who are too young to remember it, but it was much better at adapting to meet consumer demand than the railways are today.

There were long holiday trains every day in summer from Nottingham and Derby to Skegness. There was also a Saturday train from Leicester to the West Country on Saturdays in the holiday season.

I once caught it as far as Exeter. got the bus to Bude and had found a room for the night by three in the afternoon.

The renationalisation of the railways could attract me, but I am certain that, whoever owns them, the tracks and trains that run on them should be owned by the same company.

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