Wednesday, 14 March 2012

HERE WE GO AGAIN?

News that the Westminster Government is preparing to save billions of pounds from public spending on the railways. The McNulty review (last year) recommended that running costs should be cut by one third to bring them into line with other European rail networks, may make many people wonder as to whether or not this is a case of here we go again.

McNulty also recommended that ministers should conduct a full review of fares policy and structures, and aim to move towards a system that is seen to be less complex and more equitable. He also said that this would aid the management of peak demand and the more efficient matching of demand with capacity. The devil will no doubt be in the detail, but, no amount of spin can hide the fact that rail privatisation was a  disaster and a chronically underfunded British Rail was broken up into different competitive contradictory rail companies, which much plundering and disposal of assets along the way.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) fears that we could be talking about the loss of as many as 12,000 jobs, the wholesale closure of countless ticket offices and the creation of hundreds of unmanned station around the fragmented network . Rather than putting their hands up and recognising that rail privatisation failed (New Labour also failed to do this) the Con Dems will try to reduce state involvement by enlarging the private sectors share.

Ironically, despite the failed privatisation, our railways are currently booming, as a partial result of high fuel costs, which have driven car users back onto the rails. At the moment taxpayers (but not necessarily some Conservative party donors) pay around 40% of the rail costs. In January 2012, we saw the usual annual rail ticket price rises, when the average cost of regulated fares, such as season tickets, rose by some 6%.

To be honest, if the UK government wanted to cut the costs of running our railways, then they could do at a stroke by removing them from the control of private companies, who are more concerned with shareholders dividends and profit that providing a decent service to rail customers. Transferring the rail franchise to not for profit operations would eliminate the profiteering that has bled money from the system, cut waste and reduce fragmentation.

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