16 August 2016

Bring Back British Rail?

Today we learn how much regulated rail fares are due to go up in January. The rise in fares has led to calls for renationalisation.

Rail use has doubled in the last twenty years, but the infrastructure hasn't kept up with it.

I am not sure that renationalisation is necessary the best way to do it - considering the experience of British Rail.

I must admit I am too young to remember much of it - my commuter experience began well after privatisation. So I can only go from what I have read and my own experiences on c2c, TfL Rail, Abellio Greater Anglia and the London Underground.

So here are my thoughts/observations
* I have experienced far worse overcrowding on the London Underground than on any of the privatised lines. In particular, the Central Line is a living argument for Crossrail.
* My recollections of the Class 312 were that is was rather grotty. The Class 357 Electrostar (and the other trains in the family) may be a bit boring, but at least it is clean.
* No-one seems to ask regular users of SNCF and DB what they think of their services.
* Many of the safety issues over Driver Only Operation are addressable with improved technology. That said, I would prefer to have a second staff member on a train.
* In the twenty years before privatisation (1975-1994), 150 people were killed in train collisions and other accidents; not counting 'one under' suicides. In the twenty years since (1995-2014), it was 85 and the last ten years has seen a number of years with no deaths whatsoever.
* BR did many good things, but the Beeching Axe was definitely not one of them - they were continuing to cut lines and services into the 1980s. Our capacity issues would be a lot easier if the Great Central Railway was still open; alas there is now too much of Nottingham in the way now.
* Dining services have reduced massively, but the railway operators have caused that by the proliferation of shops on the stations themselves, which sell food at cheaper prices.
* Yes, there needs to be an increased emphasis on passenger service over profit.
* A nationalised system would be far more subject to political whims than the current system. What interest does a Labour government have in rural Norfolk or Cornwall?
* The much-maligned Pacer was a BR product.
* Rail subsidy has gone up since privatisation; private companies do need to make a profit - we are now having problems with getting bidders for franchises. The Big Four had to rely on newspaper traffic to break even.
* Under the proposed Labour scheme of taking each franchise into public ownership, only four would go back by 2025. With Labour's current leadership, getting into power to do even that is unlikely.

If nationalisation could be made to work in a way that didn't see cuts in services as happened under BR, I would favour it. But I need convincing.

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