Despite being at home tonight I am writing this early just in case. As last night proved you just can’t tell when something is going to happen.
It has been a while since a week at work was as bad as this one and not been weather related. It would be easy to blame society, rising costs, a compassion-less government, austerity and desperation. In fact it is fair to attribute at least partial blame to these factors.
As prices rise brought about by increasing costs driven by availability and greed, market forces and advertising drive down the rewards for producing. This affects everyday life as the gap between income and expenditure grow. Tough decisions are made and demand for non essential items fall. This drop in demand causes prices to rise as the volumes aren’t being met to keep prices down. Businesses become threatened and indeed some close down as the markets shrink. This continues to affect the earning potential as the downward spiral continues. Lack of opportunities to provide income then forces those on the outer edge of the precipice to take increasingly desperate action. For some that action is tragic, for others the action is illegal. For companies such as my employer staffing levels and the ability to respond have to be managed very closely, sometimes too closely. For other companies, their staff may have the opportunity to ply their trades with other company’s that value their services a little higher. You cannot blame anyone for trying to provide the best for their loved ones but the after effects have an increasingly damaging result on those left behind and for those who rely upon that service.
Where is this all going? We know the railway isn’t “World Class”, in fact I think that aspiration has been removed and the other four are under threat. The Railway is seen as a soft target and simply put, we are. We cannot hope to protect the whole network from those that which to steal or die or disrupt. We have improved but zero is never going to be achievable. Changing the need or the penalties would be a start as I am sure most people who die under the wheels of a train wouldn’t wish to if they saw anything in their future worth living for. I am sure that if the penalties for stealing and receiving were severe enough the risk would outweigh the reward. If the market is closed there is no worth in your product.
As for performance, the Railway stopped being a public service in 1997. It stopped being about fulfilling a need and became about filling pockets. Oh we got new units and regular changes to livery but at what price? Free Market Enterprise was apparently about bringing out the best and receiving fresh money from speculators. Twenty five years on the reality is a lot of turd polishing, higher prices, more road haulage, more congestion and sufficient confusion to give the illusion of progress. It also brought more administration, duplication, cost cutting and the responsibility to provide a return on investment. If there is insufficient return then there is no compulsion to provide. The end user doesn’t see the benefits stood on a crowded platform waiting for a train that isn’t arriving.
British Rail was flawed. It was big, too big to be managed stuck in the past, overweight and unaccountable but it was also fair. Every driver was paid the same wage, promotion was done on seniority and the only reasons to move were personal ones. The ability to respond to the unforeseen was recognised and budgeted for as opposed to budgeting for the best case scenario and praying for nothing to fail. The technology was the best rather than the best that could be afforded. There was a lot to be said for British Rail, I certainly remember the pride of working for BR and what it represented.
So where are we now? In my opinion the industry is disjointed and crumbling. These days you would consider yourself lucky to only have sandwiches to complain about. Is there money to be had from entering the industry as an investor? It would appear there is a market for buying into the £3.88 billion subsidy that Taxpayer’s give each year (based on last year’s figures). Even after the £1.7 billion received from companies to use the network is factored in £2.7 billion is given out by the taxpayer. If figures are to be believed, East Coast Trains, as a government owned company receive less subsidy that privately owned companies. Under the delay repay schemes ECR pay out on their own, as much as all the other companies put together. Are they worse in performance? No , they are just sticking to the rules, being publicly owned they is little incentive to rob the Taxpayer.
London Midland are coming to the end of their franchise, they are on a uneven playing field for performance and geography as the big two run right through their area. Based on their recent performance would they keep a franchise? Based on my own findings and recent events with Virgin, probably not. Who would step up to the plate to take over? Could they be another company forced back into government guardianship? Will the WCML also be forced that way as Sir Richard seems a little cool of late? That being the case at what point is privatisation no longer viable. Network Rail, a non profit making organisation and possibly the two major cross boundary main line routes in public ownership wouldn’t that be BR2?
Can I say at this point, a fully integrated transport system is vital for Britain. Our roads cannot take the strain of traffic that should be on rail. The planet cannot take the strain either, as global warming worsens and resource depletion demands ever more desperate methods of production. Is it not right for the £3.88 billion is utilised to get Britain moving rather than lining the coffers of private companies and in many cases other country’s speculating with their nationalised railway’s finances. Isn’t it bizarre that we are propping up other nationally owned railways at the detriment to our own? That doesn’t make any sense at all to me. In fact it outrages me.
In twenty five years we have learned a lot of lessons. British Rail needed pruning, it needed a wake up call. We have pruned, maybe too far, and we have woken up but for the sake of this country, this population, our industry and our planet, the railway needs taking back into full public ownership as a non profit organisation.