I haven’t yet watched Richard Wilson’s programme on British railways that was on Channel 4 the other day but I’ll stick my neck out and guess that it makes the following claims:
Fares are really expensive
Trains are frequently delayed
Subsidy is high
Trains are frequently overcrowded
This is all the fault of privatisation
I’m going to stick my neck out again and guess that it won’t be saying any of the following:
Railways are highly regulated
Rail fares are highly regulated
The wheel-rail split is the source of many of the industry’s problems and is mandated by the EU
That trains are much cleaner, brighter less vandalised and more reliable than they used to be
That many fares (restrictive as they may be) are extremely cheap
Overcrowding is a classic example of price controls causing shortages
That railways are expensive
That most of the subsidy goes to little-used rural lines
That railways are capital intensive, that it takes a long time for investments to become profitable and that franchises are typically short-term thus removing any incentive for rail operators to invest for the long-run.
Or, to put it another way, a lot of the things that get blamed on freedom are, in fact, the result of state violence.
And then came this:
The country’s worst-performing rail company has been warned it could lose its franchise unless services improve over the next 12 months.
In a move unprecedented since privatisation, First Great Western has been told it faces being stripped of its licence unless standards are raised.
Personally, I get a feeling of yet another last chance. I can imagine why. You can’t exactly re-let the franchise immediately. It took 18 months in the case of SouthEastern (yes, such a move is not “unprecedented") which means if the government strips Great Western of the franchise it is going to the government that gets the blame every time a train is late. From a minister’s point of view best to procrastinate in the hope that he gets moved before he really, really has to do anything.
Whether First Great Western really is as bad as everyone says it is, I really don’t know. In my experience it seems just fine but I know at least one commuter who bought himself a car rather than rely on their service. And The Truth About First Great Western has gone awfully quiet recently.