How can we make them safe, on time and good value?
To anyone who hankers after the “good old days” of nationalised British Rail, I offer the attached wikipedia chart of usage numbers. Only the most committed Marxist could believe that going back to the days of dried sandwiches, minimal investment and constant strikes could be a good idea.
User numbers have more than doubled in this Century, which can only be seen as a good thing – more economic activity, more GDP with (debatably) less pollution.
So we get the the thorny issue of subsidy. What does cheaper rail travel achieve?
Less congestion on the road and less pollution, by making an alternative cheaper.
A flatter house price gradient away from major cities – by making travel cheaper, more money is available to buy houses!
More economic activity
This all sounds great – why not make the railways free??? Well there is the matter of who pays? Why should a lowly-paid farmworker in Cornwall, who never uses a train, subsidise the daily commute of a banker travelling to London from Guildford every day?
In the past, we had Railtrack – which was effectively stolen by the Government of the day when it changed its mind about subsidy levels. Then we had Network Rail, which seems rather prone to mismanagement and over spends – typical public sector malaises.
The Rail Delivery Group – a coalition of rail travel providers – have suggested a major change where long distance railways would become more like motorways in their finances, with several providers able to compete for passengers along inter-city lines. What a great idea. But then they go and spoil it by suggesting TfL-type control of suburban commuter lines. If coach-like operators work on long-distance lines, why not locally as well. A clever app could co-ordinate timings, to be bid for on 6 month lots, not 6 years.
So lots of opportunity to improve rail travel. But please please please no nationalisation. That would be a chuffing disaster.
PS. Cannot leave without the clip illustrating perfectly how modern railways perform against their British Rail forebears.
PPS. Didn’t we do well not to mention Chris Grayling?