An end to rail franchising – but what next?

Rail franchising has been an expensive failure and I think most involved with the rail industry will acknowledge that due not least to the fragmentation it’s caused to what needs to be a national infrastructure.

Northern Rail Franchise Class 319 electric unit at Liverpool Lime Street Station

In effect rail has been re-nationalised as the 1980’s high profile privatisation project has hit the buffers, indeed it’s been bumping into those buffers for a long time now. Of course Railtrack was nationalised into Network Rail quite a while ago.

The Railway Gazette has an interesting article on its website – see link below:-

Being a railway enthusiast means that I’m probably not a reliable witness but I’ll have my say, biased though it may be, anyway. That British Railways was in many ways a bit of a mess is a given but the route the Conservatives took to address its shortcomings was to say the least drastic, although I also appreciate that they did it to big up their policy direction of the day and there will have been little thought for what they were setting in train (sorry) and how things would actually look further down the track (sorry again). Such is politics, short term voter approval is all that is required and beggar the consequences as the other lot will be in power when the train derails!

What we managed to lose during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s was anything approaching an integrated transport system (remember that the infamous Bus Deregulation Act plays into this too) and now we are paying the price. Yes of course there have been some positives with rail travel increasing year on year until Covid 19 came along. However, we now need to reinvent the wheel and build an integrated transport system which rail (both train and tram) will need to be at the heart of.

That many European countries and beyond have successfully done this means it can be done and should be. We’ve ended up in a kind of halfway house between many counties who have progressed integrated transport very well and the likes of the US and Canada who have all but tried to kill off public transportation completely.

A Virgin Trains Frabchise Pendolino train at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

The big question now is where will our Conservative government drive transport policy now. Certainly they are big on roads and cars and are planning huge infrastructure investment in new highways despite roads being the very opposite of what is required to tackle climate change. The old ten bob note they recently held up to pay for the reversal of Beeching cuts in our railways was of course all political froth as that tiny budget will pay for nothing much at all.

Of course Conservative voters don’t use buses and trains much, if at all, although all those right wing former Labour voters who backed Johnson at the last GE do.

Can’t say I’m optimistic about the future of public transport under the present occupier of 10 Dither Street, London.

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

2 thoughts on “An end to rail franchising – but what next?

  1. Peter Scarisbrick says:

    Privatisation of the railways was one of those dumb ideas rushed out at the fag end of the Major government, and basically a dog’s breakfast breakup of a nationalised industry into a jigsaw of parts that did not fit together.

    The usual privatisation route of subcontracting out to various other firms and creaming off the profits at the top, lead to the Railtrack disasters, lives lost and renationalisation under NetworkRail. Some rail companies, like Virgin, managed to gain the financially viable routes, brought in new trains and made money by providing a good service. Other companies were just in it for the money, provided a poor service and just exploited passengers who had no choice but to use their trains to get to work.

    Even before the pandemic Northern were stripped of their franchise. We wait to see what the new model will be. What it does need is capable people running it, and that will be the hardest task

  2. Phil Holden says:

    The Railway Gazzette article is a worthwhile read, thanks. It contains many valid points and opinions. The rail franchise system was set up to achieve higher passenger volumes and that was achieved with 20 years of increasing numbers after 50 years of decline. For the most part the private franchise holders did a better job than old BR at running the trains. Once the profitable routes saturated franchise bids became unrealistic and the model frayed; covid broke it.
    But the bigger picture is that rail is almost irrelevant with less than 10% of traffic and no prospect of even doubling that. Given how expensive HS2 is proving just think how much it would cost to put in more tracks between more major cities, let alone the disruption. It is also an expensive drain on the taxpayer, whereas roads are a net contributor to the exchequer. BTW I expect you’d find that there is much more investment going into rail than roads despite the limited contribution of rail to transport.
    The thing about trains are that they take you to where they want to go, when they want to go. Hardly any journeys start or end at a “station”, people go from their homes to specific destinations.
    Rail remains an expensive problem. It can only ever provide a small element of the solurion.
    That’s why it is so important to have cost effective low carbon road transport solutions. It’s the only effective way forward.

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