A glimmer of hope for the railways perhaps?
The train-fare increases, which have come into effect in the last few days, are an unwelcome reminder of the costs of running the railway. It stretches family budgets even more, and puts into question the idea of the rail passenger getting value for money.
The costs of running the railway cannot be avoided. I generally agree with the idea of trying to reduce government subsidies given to train operators. The obvious way to do this is for us to pay more when we use the trains.
However, it is clear that the rail industry is having problems with keeping costs under control. It almost feels that, together with the government subsidies, these fare increases are going down a black hole. The improvements promised by the train operators are few and far between.
I cannot be alone in suspecting that the fare increases are the absolute minimum that the train companies were after. There cannot be many other private industries where there is such a weary struggle to balance income with costs. What is going on? Why are the costs of the railways so high?
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It is no coincidence that the costs of running the railways have increased a lot since rail privatisation in the 1990s. That point cannot be avoided or glossed over. The idea of privatisation was a good one; the problem was the way in which it was implemented.
Network Rail are responsible for the stations, tracks, tunnels and other infrastructure, and the train operators are responsible for running the trains. My personal view is that there should have been just one single company responsible for both the infrastructure and the train services.
Would costs have been lower? Quite possibly.
There is no way that the railways will be re-nationalised. The costs would be absolutely huge, and would mean that the mountain of debt that this country is in becomes even higher.
I do understand the desire of some people for the railways to be re-nationalised, but we have to be honest, and admit that it would be an expensive nightmare. We also need to ask whether we really want the government running our railways.
The way forward, in my view, is for the 'mess' of privatisation to be tidied up, and for train operators to be responsible for the stations, track and other infrastucture too. We are already seeing this with South West Trains. Last year they launched an alliance with Network Rail, and now have a single-management team responsible for everything. Common sense surely?
This is the first new 'model' of operating since the railways were privatised, and it is hoped that other train operators will follow suit. How about it First Great Western?
This much more integrated way of working is a big first step in reducing the costs of running the railways. In time, it will hopefully lead to lower fare increases too.