Railways that want to deter passengers

THE RAILWAYS DON’T WANT PASSENGERS

The government’s original strategy for transport was to switch people from cars to trains. They inherited a fast growing railway, where for the first time since 1950 railway managers wanted more passengers and promoted their businesses accordingly. In the late 1990s use of the railways by both passengers and freight surged.

Then came the clunking fist of renationalisation of the track network. The new Network Rail soon showed all the classic symptoms of being a nationalised industry, even though Ministers kept telling us it was a new kind of private company. It is a monopoly. It does not make more capacity available on the scale the users need. It sees it best hope of a good life lying in lobbying the government for more guarantees to borrow more money to keep it going.

So now the train companies, under the guiding hand of Ministers again, decide to put their fares up by far more than inflation where they are allowed to, sending a clear signal that the railway does not want more passengers. They gave the same feeling over the holiday period, with the railway closed on Christmas day, when my local convenience store still had its doors open for any who had forgotten the stuffing or the cream.

The UK is chronically short of transport capacity of all kinds. The inadequate road network has not been expanded in the last ten years, and there have been no new major rail projects commenced under this government. No wonder the railways can afford to act like the monopolists they are, with the effective encouragement of Ministers who do not seem to care that they have helped stop the expansion of train travel.

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4 Comments

  1. Kit
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    It is time we scrapped the rail network just as we replaced the canal network before it. Read http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/ and see if you come to the same conclusion.

  2. Ed
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I'm glad you covered this. I have been fuming about the fare increases on my line, which make Livingstone's Tube price rises look good value!

    Not only are fares rising hugely, but the taxpayer subsidies have soared as well. And the service continues to decline.

    The tracks and operators should be merged on a line-by-line basis.

  3. Philip
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    I agree with Mr Redwood that the Government seems to be acting to deter people from rail travel. Governments of both parties expanded the road network over recent decades to cope with increasing traffic. Now the railways have experienced increased demand, the Government's answer seems to be to price people off the trains! It seems the last thing they would want to do is to expand and develop the railway system! I suppose they need to find money for airport expansion from somewhere. So much for concern about global warming. To my mind it is no use going on about windmills on houses and home insulation (which often makes houses too hot in the hot weather anyway!) without tackling the contribution of transport to global warming.

    You can now guess what I think of Kit's comment! Obviously people want to use trains, or passenger numbers wouldn't have increased. With environmental concern and better and faster trains, railways should become an increasingly popular choice of transport, thus avoiding the fate of the canals! So free the railways from the clunking fist of the Treasury so that the companies are incentivised to develop the railways to attract more people to the trains. While there'll be a need for regulation to ensure passengers' interests are safeguarded (in safety, fares and timetables etc), the railway companies should have more freedom to innovate.

    Yes, some services will always need subsidies, but with innovation brought about by local partnerships and so on, passenger numbers on many such loss-making services are soaring.

  4. James Strachan
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The elephant in the room, which nobody wants to mention, is Network Rail. NR wants

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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