Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Still on the wrong track

The fragmentation of our rail network has left us with an efficiency gap of between 30% and 40% compared to the best performing European networks. This means that money which should be used to address the cost of travel and fund much needed investment is needlessly wasted through the franchising process.

Following the collapse of the National Express East Coast franchise, when it reneged on its obligations in 2009, the last Labour government took the important step of bringing East Coast back into public operation.

The publicly-run East Coast train service proved itself to be one of the most efficient operators, returning over £1bn to the taxpayer in premium payments as well as investing every penny of profit back into the service. In addition: fares were kept fares down in real terms in 2014 when no privately run franchise took the same step; there was record passenger satisfaction and engagement with the workforce was an unparalleled success.

The recent experience of East Coast run by the UK state made it abundantly clear that a good and reliable services can be run by the UK state with profits going to our Treasury as opposed to the state railways of other European countries.

But this government is ideologically obsessed with privatisation. Ministers have mothballed Directly Operated Railways – East Coast’s parent company – and outsourced its functions to consultancy firms, which will undermine the Government’s ability to step in if a franchise does fail.

The Government’s handling of the electrification programme has been nothing short of shambolic. The ‘pausing’ and then ‘unpausing’ of the Transpennine and Midland Main Line electrification paints a picture of disarray.

The cost of electrifying the Great Western Mainline has ballooned to over £2.5 billion since the project was announced. Under woeful Conservative leadership the programme has been beset by delays and rising costs due to appalling mis-management.

Despite this, media reports this last weekend confirmed that Ministers are actively considering the privatisation of Network Rail. In light of the disaster that was Railtrack, more privatisation and more fragmentation are the last things that passengers need.