Last weekend, there was major chaos & disruption experienced by thousands of rail commuters at Kings Cross & Paddington, two of London’s biggest stations. This resulted from ‘overrunning engineering work’ undertaken by Network Rail over the Christmas break [NR run the infrastucture of rails and statione etc]. This is just another nail in the coffin of rail privatisation in the UK, isn’t it?
Doing rail engineering work to a short timescale is not rocket science is it? You need a plan, you need all the materials, you need the right equipment, you need enough experienced motivated workers, and you need to build-in contingency to cover potential problems or delays. You shouldn’t tackle more jobs than you can handle. NR failed. Oh no, nobody will get the sack though, nor lose pay, nor bonuses, nor get punished, nor get demoted – that is the way it is these days, isn’t it? Wait for the usual announcement of course “we fully & sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused and will learn lessons from this unfortunate incident that was beyond our control”. [Only six years ago NR were fined fourteen million pounds for a similar breach of its license at Liverpool Street, Rugby and Shields Junction. [they don’t seem to have learned much from that ‘systemic weaknesses found in Network Rail´s approach to the planning and execution of its engineering work’, do they?].
In the middle of this present fiasco the current Rail Minister wrote a ridiculed newspaper article boasting about the success of our railways – this must have been another major embarrassment to the current Conservative-led Government, particularly as it follows on from her false claim to Parliament two months ago that our trains were the most punctual in Europe. [Actually, punctuality is at its lowest level for seven years in fact].
In the good old days of our nationalised railway system British Rail (say in the 1960s) our trains ran far & wide to towns & villages galore, and were the preferred means of travel by the working class masses. Then the Tory government of the day brought in an infamous hatchet man called Dr Beeching who under the demise of efficiency decimated the network, cutting out branch & limb, closing stations by the thousands, tearing up multi-thousand miles of track, and sacking tens of thousands workers into the bargain of course, in a vain attempt to save money and expense to the government purse – bizarrely all based of flawed & dubious data gathered over a few days! The savings he promised never ever materialised, did they?
Then came the coup de grâce in 1993 when the Conservative dogma of Privitisation was rushed through willy-nilly before a General Election defeat. This turned a still cohesive valued public service into a complex (nearly a hundred companies) dysfunctional set of franchises that has given our growing and impoverished population the crap railway service of today [oh yes, a lot of Tory supporters have made a lot of money along the track though].
We in Britain are unique of course. We have the only country in the World where one set of people make plenty of cash to run the track and another ‘multi-set’ make massive profits to run the trains – all totally independently of each other, so destroying the concept of a ‘national’ or even a coordinated service.
Oh yes, don’t forget that we these days spend even more government money on providing our disgusting train service than EVER in the past – you see we subsidise this ‘so called’ commercial/competitive business to the hilt – so that the ‘so called’ investors (mostly foreigners) can trouser our money. We taxpayers cover a third of the cost – that is four billion pounds down the drain. How does that make sense anybody?
Oh yes, most of us may have missed it but last year the UK Government set Network Rail to become a ‘central government body’ this year. An act that at a stroke has increased the deficit (at a time of austerity) & added NR’s growing thirty four billion pounds borrowing mountain (rising to fifty billion by the end of the decade?) to the National Debt. [So it is now a body brought under State control but strangely it is NOT called nationalisation by the Government – and it was a move forced on us by EU legislation of course!]. An unbelievable arrangement where there will be a serious lack of normal financial scrutiny and the customary controls (like Freedom of Information), but whereby the taxpayer carries all the risks – happy about that are we? [No big fine for the NR Christmas misdemeanours then – the Government won’t want to fine themselves will they?
The ‘East Coast’ franchise failed in 2009 so was brought back into state control by Labour and performed outstandingly well under Directly Operated Railways (the DOT’s operator of last resort), and joe public wanted all the others to follow suit as quickly as possible! No Conservative Government would do it though, would they? And Labour will flunk it as well won’t they? The current Government have just re-let the franchise from next March but with a commitment to assist the generation of new business through government-funded improvements – surely the idiots are running the asylum here? [not a politically phrase these days].
Has there been even worse consequences then of our untrustworthy politicians destroying our railways for the last fifty years? You can bet your life there has – the unstoppable growth in road usage by cars, vans, lorries, juggernauts, all causing gridlock, road building costs & damage wear & tear, potholes on all our minor roads, not forgetting distressingly large numbers of deaths and injuries in RTAs.
The cost of rail travel in Britain is eye wateringly & absurdly high, isn’t it? Indeed fares have even risen by an average twenty per cent since the last election. We certainly for years have had the highest rail fares in Europe, and probably the World. It doesn’t matter if your rail journey is short (10 miles), medium (100 to 150 miles), or long (200+ miles) you will always pay through the nose – for example two hundred to one thousand percent more than in France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland [Long journey £150 UK compared to the next highest £54 France].
Is that something to be proud of? Something that justifies the destruction of the service and its privatisation? Something that is right and fair in the Country that revolutionised the World by actually starting railways?
Notwithstanding all that, our trains are regularly overcrowded to an extent that passengers often can’t get a seat even on substantial journeys. That is just a reflection of us having one of the worst rail services, despite paying the highest fares and injection of the biggest subsidies (while train company profits soar of course) – good one eh? Rail privatisation has failed on every possible measure for twenty years, without doubt?
[What needs to happen now, is to quickly cancel ALL rail franchises (without compensation) and pay for the existing assets only. Then establish a fully nationalised ‘British Rail 21’ and get ourselves a decent & value railway system once again – and also let’s forget HS2 & HS3 and their idiotic costs once and for all (dream on everybody)].