Thoughts on Labour's handling of the railways
18 Jan 2004
The Government will no doubt will use the argument of “botched privatisation” to excuse recent failings. But this will no longer do. The problem is Labour’s botched renationalisation.
Labour are doing to transport what they have done to education, health, law & order; they have made life difficult for those at the sharp end by overwhelming them with regulation, targets, supervisory bodies and by constant Ministerial intervention. Sir Alastair Moreton, the former Chairman of the Strategic Authority, made the point well on Radio 4 on the lunchtime news.
Privatisation brought with it many benefits, which Ministers have recognised. Railtrack could access the capital it needed to make good the underinvestment of past decades; those with proven success in other transport fields – aviation, sea and bus – were attracted into railway operation; train operators invested in new rolling stock, which is now coming on stream; customers were attracted back to rail in record numbers.
These benefits have been eroded – Network Rail has its borrowings underwritten by the Treasury and it can no longer access the capoital it needs. Expansion plans have been abandoned or deferred. Franchise lengths have been reduced, giving the Train Operating Companies less incentive to invest.
The problem for the Government is that they did not want to spend money buying back the railways when they won in 1997, but neither did they have the political commitment to make the new system work. A blame culture replaced the team spirit we left behind.
They have recently abandoned what I believe was a key component of a balanced and sustainable transport strategy. Controlled fares which we brought in were capped at "RPI-1%. For eight years, commuters were protected from real terms fare increases. That protection has gone, exposing commuters for the first time to inflation busting increases; and this at the same time that performance falters.
Good government is not about finding someone else to blame; the public are weary of all that. It is about a cool analysis of what needs to be done now. I will await tomorrow's announcement, but with low expectations.

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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015