Nationalisation of railway franchises does not solve many of the problems

Yesterday saw the government announce the takeover of the Northern Rail franchise by the government from March. They tell me the aim is to introduce private sector capital and management again on a new basis. They warned against expecting too much from taking over the franchise.

Too many delays, cancelled services and old rolling stock have blighted the service. Many of the problems were entirely outside the control of the franchise holder, and will be no more under the control of the government franchise manager.

The Spanish company supplying new trains failed to meet deadlines for deliveries, forcing the franchise holder to battle on with old stock.

Network Rail, a nationalised business, failed to lengthen platforms in time to allow delivery and use of other new trains.

Some of the delays were caused by Network Rail failures with track and signals.

The franchise holder had problems with the new timetables in 2018 which were required of it from the rail authorities.

Various rail franchises have difficulties in securing Trade Union consent to new ways of working. There is no guarantee the Unions will change their mind over these disputes once they are dealing direct with a government franchise manager.

The bulk of the railway is already nationalised. Many of the delays throughout the network are caused by track or signal failures in the nationalised industry, or in a few cases by people and even vehicles intruding on track or disrupting operation of the system.

Nationalisation is no easy answer, and in the case of Northern it does not suddenly resolve the big issues over train delivery and driver availability that are part of the problem.

The UK needs to improve its supply chain for the many of the new trains the big surge in rail investment will require, and ensure most of the work is carried out in the UK.


  1. Mark B
    January 30, 2020

    Good morning

    Here is a clear case where a private concern has been removed from the market due to failure. And the cost to the taxpayer for this ? Well doubt it is over a hundred billion pounds.

    This is a failure of management. A new company will come forward and take over the business of running trains. What is concern is rhwvcosts to the franchise’s. I think it is long overdue to look at the business model where high costs and risks are undertaken for only a limited franchise. Perhaps it is time to look at how and who buys the rolling stock.

    1. SM
      January 30, 2020

      Mark, I was about to comment about the problem being failure of management, whether private or public when I read your post.

      I do wonder whether, globally, management skills are getting worse, or is it that humankind can conjure up and manufacture all kinds of wonderful technology but are inherently incapable of using it all efficiently and wisely?

    2. Lifelogic
      January 30, 2020

      Why would anyone think the state sector would run it better. They cannot run anything. Look at the absurd complexity and utter stupidity of the UK tax system that I have been dealing with for the past few weeks for the deadline tomorrow.

      1. jerry
        January 30, 2020

        @LL; Perhaps you should question why our tax code has become so complex, might it have anything to do with the way some people inventing never ending succession of avoidance schemes that exploit accidental loopholes, meaning that a new piece of tax code gets written to tie off the loophole…

    3. Narrow Shoulders
      January 30, 2020

      Given the large cost to the taxpayer and the need to maintain the services maybe personal guarantees from the directors (and union bosses?) will concentrate minds

    4. Martin in Cardiff
      January 30, 2020

      The change should be fundamental.

      The objective should be to provide an effective public service, not to make a profit for shareholders.

      If it is the latter, then providing that service is an undesirable cost, to be minimised as far as possible. There is an incentive to create structural unaccountability, and to conceal intentional neglect of duty or contractual service terms, and in some cases, criminality.

      That is inescapable with most private undertakings.

      1. Richard1
        January 30, 2020

        Hmm that must be why all those societies with ubiquitous state ownership did such a good job delivering prosperity for their citizens: the Soviet Union; east Germany; North Korea; Venezuela etc. You wonder why the East Germans ever wanted to merge with the west Germans?!

        1. jerry
          January 30, 2020

          @Richard1; Never heard of any UK company being run Not for Profit?

          Why do some always have to go off on one, talking about Communism, whenever anyone questions the need for shareholder dividends from a very specific industry or special situation.

        2. Martin in Cardiff
          January 31, 2020

          No, you compare only with authoritarian tyrannies.

          The public transport systems – often with a publicly-owned framework to set standards – of many European Union countries are rather good.

          Aren’t they?

    5. forthurst
      January 30, 2020

      JR clearly would have preferred the Northern franchise to continue to be owned by the German taxpayer rather than the British; after all, surely the purpose of the Tory privatisation programme was to transfer our assets into the ownership of either foreigners or persons unknown in offshore tax havens, either way, to ensure that English people pay rent for what they used to own?

      The Tory Party’s industrial policy has been an unmitigated disaster. If their policy had not been explicitly to sell off as many of our businesses into foreign ownership as possible, it would be hard to see that it there would have been a different outcome. Who profits from all this this? Foreign banks that were invited in to buy up the City under the Big Bang, the same foreign banks that were so insistent that we Remain in the EU. Even if we do become a nominally independent state, if our businesses are all owned by foreigners, we are in actuality reduced to being serfs even whilst posturing popinjays strut their stuff in Westminster (or York). Neo-liberalism has been a disaster; it’s time for patriotic populism.

  2. Secret Shakespeare
    January 30, 2020

    This has all been spoken of before. The UK should make up its mind.
    How many people? Where they will live? Will the dominant terrestrial transport be road or rail?
    The rest falls into place.

  3. GilesB
    January 30, 2020

    Off the topic. Sorry

    Fishing: ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ made some sense in terms of linking the Withdrawal Agreement to the Future Relationship (As Art. 50 explicitly said they should be). But that debate was lost, or not even attempted, by Theresa May.

    But it doesn’t make sense to have one monolithic agreement going forward. Particularly if any change would have to be agreed by all 27 EU States and their regional parliaments. Much better to have a set of agreements, that can be renegotiated separately. Still gives the possibility of negotiating two or more simultaneously if both sides agree.

    On Fishing, the EU want access to our waters, and fish. Fine, today we have limited capacity.
    So let them have access from 1 January 2021 to say 75% of their current quota for five years at a fixed price per imperial ton, subject to UK laws, UK supervision and UK courts. That gives the UK industry an opportunity to increase UK capacity, and gives the EU access to our waters as they want. We can advise the EU that we expect in five years to reduce the quota to 50% and double the price per ton, but that will be subject to negotiation in five years time in what may be a very different world.

  4. agricola
    January 30, 2020

    It is almost impossible to comment without much more detailed knowledge. Who makes trains in Europe and the rest of the World. What are the supply options. Whether private or nationalised the problems remain the same.

    Network Rail is nationalised , but seems incapable of solving it’s part of the problem. Is this down to lack of funding, bad management or supply problems. The devil is in the detail, which we do not have.

    The only place I have experienced the smooth and ultra efficient way to run a railway is in Japan. You get an apology on the PA system from the driver if the train is more than 10 seconds late. The whole experience of using their trains is a delight. The only solution I can offer is to invite a Japanese management team to run Network Rail and failing rail franchises. I would point out it worked with the car industry so why not rail. My principal would be to hire success and not get diverted by the private/nationalised argument, both elements of which have failed. The uniqueness of Japanese management also seems to overcome the sclerotic response of the trade union movement. Time to stsrt thinking outside the box.

    1. Fred H
      January 30, 2020

      they have a technical/cultural objective of ‘continuous improvement’ – ours too often seems to be ‘that’ll do’.
      They take, copy, steal a concept, a design etc and work at it, making improvements until it is far better than the original. The essence of competitiveness mixed with a sense of honour.

      1. agricola
        January 30, 2020

        Yes it all stemmed from Prof. Deming of I think MIT. He spelt it out in detail, but the Japanese were the only ones to take it onboard. From it grew ISO 9000 and later QS 9000, initially centered on the car industry but now almost universal. It does not seem to have touched our railways. Essentially the Japanese know how to involve the workforce so that every single emplyee is involved in continuous improvement with the result that quality and competetiveness are high.

      2. rick hamilton
        January 31, 2020

        The Japanese also believe in ‘Okyakusama ichiban’ which is usually translated as ‘Customer is king’. Consequently service is excellent at all levels of business (including national health !) and everybody in Japan expects and provides it.

        I would say that on the whole, we British (left to ourselves) do not take the pride that we should in giving a service and do not have the same keen attention to detail. Also we do not complain loudly enough to the culprits about poor service. We just put up with it and moan to each other.

    2. 37/6
      January 30, 2020

      The Japanese start from scratch building rail and business distrcts together.

      They also have a declining population and don’t seem worried about it.

  5. Shirley
    January 30, 2020

    What a pigs ear! Get rid of HS2 and use the money to create a northern rail system that can work. Money is wasted on vanity projects while UK infrastructure goes to hell. Too many people is the root cause of this problem. You can’t squeeze a pint into a half pint pot.

    Land can be used for housing people, roads, rail or schools and hospitals. You can’t use the same piece of land for all at the same time, and we have a limited amount of usable land available. The way the population is growing we either destroy all the wildlife, lakes, forests, moors, etc. or we will all be living in tower blocks!

  6. Nig l
    January 30, 2020

    So how much will this cost us? I read in the ST that a previous franchise taken back into public ownership because of poor performance is now doing even less. Presumably that is what will happen this time? And they are threatening other franchises as well.

    Frankly once again big government is looking incompetent yet the ivory tower approach looks to have agreed umpteen billions for HS2. Public trust continues to be zero.

    January 30, 2020

    This blog’s become safe and middling, some would say deliberately so. It doesn’t address issues that engage the natural Tory voter and doesn’t address issues that have the capacity to incite the left.

    1. miami.mode
      January 30, 2020

      It’s life, Dominic, but not as you know it.

  8. Everhopeful
    January 30, 2020

    Passenger pressure group is very doubtful that nationalising will help.
    The problem seems to be blamed on govt failure to support the privatisation properly…late rolling stock…cancellation of infrastructure upgrades.
    The RMT union takes the view that this action will open the “floodgates”for mass public ownership of franchises.
    The initial selling off of BR was a nice little pocket-filling bean feast…shares distributed like confetti. Yet it seems to me that the companies which promised so much could not deliver without huge taxpayer subsidies.
    How is that truly private?

  9. Dave Andrews
    January 30, 2020

    Well it seems both nationalised service and private companies running the railways don’t work. Let’s try a different business model. Initiate cooperative models where the private company running the railway is composed of the staff who work in it. If they decide they really need a guard on every train, the added cost will hit them in their dividends. The union no longer has a function. A passenger with a complaint can bring it immediately to the attention of a member of staff in the knowledge that he is talking to one of the business owners.
    The company still needs to run on management discipline lines, but the executives are voted in by the staff. If the business does well, the staff can vote themselves a dividend, so there is incentive all through the business to do well.

  10. ian terry
    January 30, 2020

    Sir John

    You are correct in that taking it back into public ownership is only a solution and does not address the underlying problems. The supply chain has to be bought back to within the UK.No point in buying cheap if the products cannot be delivered on time. Railtrack has to hold fully accountable for failure to complete contract to improve platforms ,signals and tracks. If the work has been handed out to tender then the contractor must be held responsible and accountable. Push has come to shove and all those involved have to step upto the mark and accept their responsibilities. The trains have to run on time all the time and the company , railtrack union’s , suppliers,contractors and staff had all better get round a table and jointly work on producing a Direction Statement on how they propose together to produce an excellent service fit for purpose and exceeding their commuters expectations. Rocket science it is not.

  11. Lifelogic
    January 30, 2020


    The state has an appalling record in running almost everything they run, the NHS, the police, the roads, social services, LEAs, schools, overseas aid, the MOD ….. A wonderful but small example of endless waste with the police and court system the other day. Some climate “protesters” had a case collapse at court because the police witness had gone on holiday rather than turn up at court and then the accused were awarded travel costs too. Why did he have to go on holiday? Why could the case not be held at a different time, why did the hearing even take place if this witness was not available?

    So Javid is, it seems, in favour of HS2. This is clear proof he is totally unsuitable for his position. If he cannot even see how idiotic, damaging and wasteful this project is what hope is there for all the other endless waste in government being addresses. It seems we do indeed have yet another tax borrow and piss down the drain Chancellor in place yet sgain.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 30, 2020

      Let us hope the Boris government cancel HS2 and replace Javid with someone numerate who will cut out the endless government waste and reduce taxes and red tape significantly. Javid has shown himself to be clearly not the right man at all. HS2 is blindingly obviously an idiotic waste of money and is hugely damaging. The only reason for it going ahead must surely be corruption or pressure from vested interests?

  12. Andy
    January 30, 2020

    Northern is primarily a failure of government.

    Infrastructure improvements were promised – like electrification – which the Tories scrapped, making it impossible to run sufficient trains.

    Rail privatisation has essentially failed. It was completely botched when it was sold off – also by tbt Tories – and we are still dealing with the mess today.

    1. Richard1
      January 30, 2020

      Network rail is govt owned – that’s most of the assets. The rail franchisees are govt appointed monopolies and operate centrally planned – or at least highly regulated – pricing systems. Rail in the U.K. is miles off being ‘privatised’.

  13. Lifelogic
    January 30, 2020

    I see that Baroness Scotland is in hot water over the way some contract has been awarded. I have always though she was totally wrong headed on almost every issue unsuitable for any position in public office. Doubtless one reason why she was elevated to the Lords.

  14. James Freeman
    January 30, 2020

    Where the line is a natural monopoly, let a single operator own, invest in and run the whole thing. If it is not, let rival operators compete against each other for business.

    In the second case, the competing companies would include those with monopolies over certain sections of track. For monopolies requiring a small degree of access by other operators (e.g. freight), a regulator would help ensure there was fair access to the track.

  15. 37/6
    January 30, 2020

    “…and old rolling stock have blighted the service.”

    In fact thank God for the old BREL rolling stock built so well it is still going strong, otherwise the passenger transport system would have collapsed decades ago.

    The fact is that rail privatisation was predicated on a lie. That the old BR was incompetent when, in fact, it was just grossly under funded. The unions have got stronger and stronger under privatisation as it played right into their hands. The delay-attribution fines system meant that the only competition rail privatisation brought was the poaching of competent staff.

    1. jerry
      January 30, 2020

      @37/6; Indeed, and the same lie was used to privatise BT before it…

      Also I’m not sure why our host thinks short platforms stop TOCs using new trains, sounds like trying to pluck an excuse out of fresh air to me, BR served short platforms with full length, low density, coaching stock its entire existence, and this was an age before centralised door operation – passengers for such destinations were warned to only travel in certain parts of the train or the train would have to pull-forward.

      Heck BR even had to split some trains if terminal platform length was insufficient, again this before the very wide spread use of multiple-unit trains that makes this task simple (assuming that the TOC employs enough trained staff….

  16. Richard1
    January 30, 2020

    It sounds as though we are going to get a second Theresa May-like decision from Boris on HS2, following that on Huawei. I hope the radical stuff is going to start at some point….

    1. Lifelogic
      January 30, 2020

      Me too, the last thing we need is more tax, borrow and piss down the drain idiots but it seems that is exactly what we have.

  17. Bob Dixon
    January 30, 2020

    Sir John

    Can you give us an update on Crossrail?

  18. Nhsgp
    January 30, 2020

    Instead let’s spend billions in hs2, lots of profits for the elite, all the pain for the plebs. Let’s force people in Cornwall to put for a few to get home 5 mins earlier.

  19. Ian Wragg
    January 30, 2020

    So who’s going to run the loss making HS2. Not only will the taxpayer be stung for over £100 billion we will be responsible for annual losses.

  20. Roy Grainger
    January 30, 2020

    My memory of nationalised industries was that the unions were far MORE likely to strike for higher pay and against new ways of working than when the industries were privatised. It is not surprising, a strike is politically damaging to the government of the day (of either colour) and they are likely to cave in to demands, privatised industries can take a more hard-headed line.

  21. Bryan Harris
    January 30, 2020

    For the last 30 plus years we’ve been hearing how the railways were under-funded, which allowed the imposition of an annual unfair fare increase for rail users.
    Something has gone seriously wrong with this strategy because the trains STILL do not run on time, and the general service is worse than it was in the 1950’s.
    It is grotesquely unjust that commuters have to bear the burden of such bad service at ever increasing costs.
    How much of this can be blamed on the EU is unclear, but it is now time for a reevaluation and a new master plan is badly needed… Perhaps some of then £billions from the HS2 vanity project should be redirected and used to better effect?

  22. Stred
    January 30, 2020

    Under the Major privatisation the train companies and the track company employed teams of lawyers to blame each other for delays, adding costs and making ticket prices higher than in other countries. When the train companies are taken back to be run by civil servants, will they dispense with the lawyers or will one team still keep them to blame each other and keep the numbers ip?

  23. Fred H
    January 30, 2020

    So do you wish to continue with failed franchises? A message has to be sent that failure is not acceptable, termination is the penalty. The longer failure continues the worst the service becomes, the bigger the disruption change or bailout becomes.

    I see Javid supports HS2. Well thats that then…..£8bn down the drain (tunnel) another £100bn to follow over years and years.

  24. a-tracy
    January 30, 2020

    Do they still have to buy the Spanish trains even though they’ve failed to conform to the terms of the purchase agreement?

    When people like the new franchise rail company running North West buy new rolling stock can’t their old Virgin train stock be sold on to the newly public company?

    I hate the way our government just accept over running programs with no penalty for the company providing the product or service, in fact, often they just agree to pay more!!

  25. ukretired123
    January 30, 2020

    This is a deeper failure of Westminster being out of touch with the North as transportation needs have been seriously inadequate witnessed for years on the motorways and ring roads of towns and cities.
    I once witnessed a lorry broken down at the west end of the M62 with a near 20 mile tailback on all lanes.
    You need old fashioned traffic policemen (remember their white caps?). Dealing with such incidents in known pinchpoints.
    Too many police are focussed on other obsessions more valued by Westminster these days.

    The nationalisation of Northern Rail should not be a precedent but a warning especially to the unions.

  26. Thames Trader
    January 30, 2020

    John said “The UK needs to improve its supply chain for the many of the new trains the big surge in rail investment will require, and ensure most of the work is carried out in the UK”.

    There are already three train builders in the UK (Bombardier, Hitachi, CAF). Siemens is in the process of opening a factory in Goole and Talgo is investigating opening one in Scotland. So there’s more than enough capacity and Hitachi have given warning of job losses due to insufficient future orders. The problem is that pretty much every train order has been different to the previous ones and there are difficulties getting the new train to be reliable and compatible with the existing infrastructure. It is true, though that too many previous train orders have been built outside the UK.

  27. Iain Gill
    January 30, 2020

    Not enough drivers to operate the timetable without masses of overtime, no slack if anyone goes sick.

  28. BJC
    January 30, 2020

    Meanwhile, it appears Mr Johnson will be authorising a new minimum spend of £100b+ for HS2. He promised to provide something new, but all we’ve witnessed so far is more of the same corporate group-think, putting all our eggs in one massive basket and concentrating power in the hands of “too big to fail” projects.

    We need a broad web of infrastructure that supports our needs, not one that demands we clatter along on existing broken infrastructure to reach a shiny new hub. There’s a pressing need for decent rail connections between East and West, not North and South. Surely, developing connections between Northern cities would indirectly take pressure off the North/South routes, anyway?

  29. ferdinand
    January 30, 2020

    As a common rule you will always be able to force people to purchase a product if the prie is too low. That is why trains are overcrowded. Trying to incrase supply is only a partial solution and leaving that action in the hands of the state is an even greater proble..

  30. Lifelogic
    January 30, 2020

    If the government cannot even franchise the railways efficiently what makes anyone think they can actually actually run them efficiently? They do not run anything else efficiently after all. They only area where they are the main provider (such as the NHS and Schools) they do by killing any real competition through funding by taxation and then providing the service free.

    Not easy to compete with “free” and still make a profit. Even so some manage it (so second rate are some schools and the delayed and rationed NHS).

  31. Kevin
    January 30, 2020

    ensure most of the work is carried out in the UK

    Of course, this raises the question of the “level playing field” clause (Clause 77) of the Political Declaration (“PD”), and whether or not this clause will, amongst other things, have the effect of keeping us subject to the EU’s Single Market rules on public procurement. (As an aside, I note that, from its inception, the Single Market was itself referred to as a “level playing field”.)

    I understand that the PM has pledged not to seek regulatory alignment. It has, however, been argued that Art. 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which obliges the UK to use “best endeavours” to negotiate in accordance with the PD, may have the effect of forcing the UK to extend the transition period – in order to show “best endeavours”. The problem, I believe, is that, as we recently observed with regard to the prorogation of Parliament, as long as a dispute is successfully raised in the relevant channel, it appears to be out of the hands of the UK Government to do anything about the outcome.

  32. jerry
    January 30, 2020

    “Many of the problems were entirely outside the control of the franchise holder”

    Really, so all other TOCs who run over the same tracks, use the same infrastructure, have the same problems?

    There is no reason why a TOC, Arriva in this case, could not have funded their own new trains, employed sufficient staff, after all since 2010 they have been owned by German Deutsche Bahn,, I’m sure they could have had the new trains built by any of the various German train builders, rather than wait for ‘new’ stock to be cascaded from other UK routes or franchises.

    Whilst I agree nationalisation is not the answer, it is better than doing nothing. Franchises were never the answer for replacing BR, as it has produced a very fragmented industry without the natural flexibility needed, but a functioning railway system was never really the idea behind the franchise model, it was to maximise the income to HMT, and doing so for years to come as franchises have to be renewed, rebid for.

    We need a return the 1923-48 style of integrated railway system, with limited government intervention to ensure systems comparability and inter-regional running powers over other companies networks when needed.

  33. villaking
    January 30, 2020

    Sir John,
    A very interesting and thought provoking perspective. I have learnt something and for once I am not in profound disagreement with you!

  34. Caterpillar
    January 30, 2020

    I think academic research on rail found that

    vertical separation works for low density
    vertical integration works for high density

    I do not know the papers so do not know at which density infrastructure and services need to be integrated and at which density they should be separated. I suspect the separation made in the UK was an artificial response to the EU, the transports secretary is now free to establish when local / regional rail should be vertically integrated.

  35. Lifelogic
    January 30, 2020

    Kit Malthouse say the police no longer focused on fighting crime – well they haven’t done that for very, very many years. They seem to have little or no interest in even recording it if they can avoid doing so.

    Still in Wales they will now be able to arrest (and give criminal records) to millions of parents who occasionally smack their children. It will certainly be another weapon in divorce cases and we will have children threatening their parents with I will go to the police and tell them you smacked me! It will give the police something to do in their spare time I suppose instead of their obsession with the diversity of their officers matching the local population!

    Yes another mad government decision. How do children learn to stand up, walk and run, not to touch hot or sharp things and to not fall over. One reason is they learn that it hurts if you do.

  36. Alan Joyce
    January 30, 2020

    Dear Mr. Redwood,

    Following the interventions last week of Baroness Vere, a transport minister and Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay, no lesser mortal than the Chancellor enters the fray and commits to HS2. I think it hardly likely that Mr. Javid would back HS2 if a decision had not already been made to go ahead.

    Mr. Johnson is certainly getting some difficult decisions out of the way whilst his political capital remains strong. First Huawei, now HS2. What next? Constitutional change to include moving the House of Lords to the City of York?

    Of course, by the time their ‘New York’ palace has been built, HS2 itself might have reached this far-Northern city. Their Lord and Ladyships will be able to glide effortlessly back to safety and civilization in the Capital at the end of their hard-working day.

    Meanwhile, commuters in the rest of the Northern hinterland and indeed South Wales and the South West will have to make do with their ‘Pacers’. For those unfamiliar with the term, Pacers (when they turn up) are, in fact, old Leyland Motors bus frames mounted on train wheels and built in the early 1980’s. Shinkansen or TGV expresses they are not. Ministers said they would be replaced by 2020. Train operators and unions expect them to go on until sometime in the 2030’s.

    Mr. Johnson’s levelling-up exercise in favour of his newly-captured northern seats is in danger of going off the rails.

  37. bigneil(newercomp)
    January 30, 2020

    A interview was on the radio in the early hours and the interviewee was saying the franchise arrangements for several of them was basically unworkable and the margins only allowed them 2%. He also said the old trains had been forcibly scrapped – even while the new ones had been delayed. True? – or deliberately making someone fail? I didn’t get the man’s name but it was broadcast on Radio 5 live after 1am for those who know how to get the “replay”.

  38. Martin in Cardiff
    January 30, 2020

    The general acceptance of privatisation depends upon infantile perceptions amongst the public.

    That is, of a Thomas The Tank Engine understanding of the world, where people run railways or engage in whatever, because they want to be that, and to identify with it, and to be as good as possible at it.

    They do not.

    They are out to make as much money as possible.

    That means spending as little of the turnover as they can on service delivery.

    1. Roy Grainger
      January 30, 2020

      If your contention that the public are stupid is correct then how come Labour lost the last election ?

      1. Martin in Cardiff
        January 31, 2020

        I consider that the election result supports, not undermines the implication which you yourself have apparently chosen to make, Richard.

        How’s that bullet hole in your shoe?

    2. steve
      January 30, 2020


      Yes I’m afraid you’re right. A lot of business these days is run by what are best described as ‘barrow boys’ rather than professionals.

      Service doesn’t come into it….it’s all about maximising profit. Even at risk to people’s lives in some cases.

      Guard – less trains are a fine example. This is one of the rare occasions where I actually fully support the unions.

  39. BOF
    January 30, 2020

    When the railways were run by the Government they were abysmal and permanent re-nationalisation would be a terrible mistake. How to get franchise holders to put the customer first instead of profit is the big question and I cannot offer an answer.

    Meanwhile it seems that, behind the scenes, HS2 is about to be approved as, when the Chancellor comes out in favor of something, the chances are that it is a done deal. The BBC sound delighted!

    At only £107B it must be a snip, an offer no PM and Government could afford to turn down! Sadly it is highly likely that the cost will escallate even further by many £billions and the time it will take to complete will result in years more of delay and under investment for transport links in the North as they wait for HS2 to finally reach them. Those hard won seats in the North could easily be lost at the next election.

    Boondoggle is barely adequate to describe this shameful waste of tax payers money.

    1. Martin in Cardiff
      January 30, 2020

      Actually, they were pretty good, and very easy to use.

  40. Fred H
    January 30, 2020


    Sarah Sands is standing down as editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after three years. “I have decided that September is a good time to move on from editing the Today programme,” she said in a statement. “I have loved being part of the Radio 4 team and am proud of what we have achieved, championing intelligent broadcasting and political independence.” She added: “The Today programme is a beacon of news journalism and I wish it and the BBC well.” Other outlets to be hit by the job closures announced on Wednesday include BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 5 Live and the World Update programme on the World Service.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 30, 2020

      The today programme is the usual BBC bias in spades (pro EU, insufferably PC, climate alarmist, left wing, pro EU, pro big government and endless red tape …..) but, if anything, it is rather better than Newsnight and most of the other BBC political programmes.

      JR you were exactly right today on politics live why one earth can the powers that be they not see this?

    2. Lifelogic
      January 31, 2020

      It seems Ms Sands read English and Drama at Goldsmiths college. Does anyone on BBC news or political programmes ever have any understanding of science, maths, economics or engineering? Are such people banned perhaps. Left wing, climate alarmist, pro EU, government know best, rather dire art graduates and luvvies almost without any exception.

  41. Peter
    January 30, 2020

    Franchise is the problem here. Not nationalisation.

    We need a joined up railway.

    However, it was easier for a government committed to the idea of privatisation to sell franchises with the bribe of big subsidies. This policy has demonstrably failed over the years. The government’s failure to admit it was a mistake only compounds the problem. Fresh opportunists take on a franchise for a few years while the going is good and then bail out when it no longer suits.

  42. Brigham
    January 30, 2020

    I am an old man and remember the nationalised industries from the old days. My dad was very left wing, and when the labour government got in and started to nationalise he said, ” at last we can get this country on it’s feet”. a year later he said, “the working man will be the downfall of this country.” He resigned from his union, but he still voted labour. He couldn’t bring himself to vote Tory.

    1. Fred H
      January 30, 2020

      Brigham – It still happens today. But more and more Tory voters struggled with continuing this last GE. One wonders how many more WA mk2, Huawei, HS2 decisions will be allowed for Boris to survive next GE. Maybe I was right in doubting the wisdom of voting Tory ( but where else apart from BP?) – so Sir John got mine.
      Looks like that will be the last time I vote – unless Monster Raving risks a deposit again.

  43. Dave
    January 30, 2020

    Nationalisation of anything doesn’t work. There is not a single instance of any government controlled entity being efficient. Instead we have poor working practices, over generous salaries, over generous pensions, over manning, non existent cost control, appalling delivery of services and projects and abuses of power in every sector government involves itself. When it comes to public ownership less is more and none is best.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 31, 2020

      Indeed but perhaps not quite none. I tend to agree with Milton Friedman on this (Google “The Role of Government in a Free Society” by him).

  44. Nig l
    January 30, 2020

    We are now told cancellation of HS2 is a credibility issue. Wow. 100 billion and counting to preserve credibility. Message to that senior minister. Suck it up. The credibility of this project and HMGs ability to deliver it was lost years ago.

    You would have more credibility if you were brave and did the right thing by the taxpayer. Some chance! Has CrossRail not taught this government anything. Obviously not.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 31, 2020

      It is indeed. If they do go ahead the government will clearly have zero credibility. The project is such a basket case that the only possible reason for going ahead (that I can see) is corruption and the power of vested interests, paid political “consultants” and lobby groups. Going ahead shows very clearly this government is yet another gang of tax borrow and piss down the drain merchants. A government that has the usual utter contempt for tax payers and spending their money wisely and on sensible things.

  45. Newmania
    January 30, 2020

    I`ll say one thing for Brexit – they ran the trains on time

  46. Sea Warrior
    January 30, 2020

    One of the problems facing franchise-holders is the short length of franchises. In the case of Northern Rail this was just seven years. The franchising-model is clearly flawed and needs a thorough review, so that it might be improved. As for staff contracts, those coming into the industry need to be placed on contracts better attuned to meeting the needs of the customers, with or without the consent of the trade unions. And we need to push ahead with going towards driverless trains. How long has it been since DLR opened?

  47. Original Richard
    January 30, 2020

    The state might just as well own the rolling stock as well as the track and instead of the government awarding the franchise to the highest private bidder it awards the contract to the lowest private bidder to simply run the franchise.

    The government already sets most of the fares.

  48. Everhopeful
    January 30, 2020

    JR v good on tv interview.
    Quite agree with him re HS2 …not to mention destruction of 140 odd ancient forests and lovely countryside.
    How could govt go ahead with HS2 and claim to be green?
    What exactly are they saving from plastic bags and coal if there are no green fields left?

  49. Iago
    January 30, 2020

    What a pity a part of the European Research Group did not vote against the Johnson/May Withdrawal Treaty. If they had, there would still be a part of the parliamentary party in favour of government of this country in the interests of its people. As it is , we have nothing.

  50. miami.mode
    January 30, 2020

    Myriad reasons why particular trains run late.

    Travelling on a Hull Trains service, admittedly it left King’s Cross about 10 minutes late, we were forced to wait for between 5 and 10 minutes at Grantham while an LNER train overtook us.

    Maybe a niche operator such as Hull Trains is metaphorically shunted into sidings to favour a larger or more powerful operator.

  51. DavidJ
    January 30, 2020

    The way that the privatisation of the railways was carried was seriously flawed. Before nationalisation the various railway companies such as LMS and LNER had responsibility for trains, track and all the other structures necessary to run a railway. That might have restricted competition in a particular area but it avoided the ability to blame others for failures to perform. Rail tracks are not the equivalent of roads.

    Some might argue that is a reason for re-nationalisation but do we really want to go back to the era of endless strikes? The present shenanigans in France show the result of allowing trade unions too much power.

    Indeed government must promote UK procurement of equipment where possible and certainly not invite Chinese participation as happened with Hinkley and now Huawei. A country needs to maintain its industrial base to be truly independent and must ensure that industry is able to be competitive.

    A serious re-think is needed.

  52. DaveK
    January 30, 2020

    Enjoyed your throwaway comment at the end of the Politics Live interview re the BBC radio appearance 😉

  53. John McDonald
    January 30, 2020

    Dear Sir John, I appreciate you do not support Nationalisation as a matter of principle and that the free market is best. But we have seen the effects of Globalisation where the few have got richer and the middle-income poorer.
    But when Capitalism fails the tax payer collects the bill and the pain.
    Who will build the trains for HS2? where will the skilled work force come from?
    How can the Chairman of British (in name only)Gas get a big bonus and the Company is doing very badly and charges high.
    I don’t recall British Rail being as bad as the Service we now get from “Private Operators”.
    As I have stated many times before, The National Utilities and Transport Systems should be State run and managed, but free from political meddling, and accountable to the tax payer and users of the services. These are strategic resources and should not be in the hands of foreign owned companies. You supported Brexit and therefore should reject foreign ownership of our vital strategic resources.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 31, 2020

      Why would anyone support nationalisation given the appalling way the government run the things that are nationalised so appallingly. It is pragmatic not to let them, not so much a matter of principle.

  54. Johnny Dubb
    January 30, 2020

    Sir John
    I’m afraid that, with the Hitachi train factory only 30 miles away, the awarding to a Swiss company of the £300+m contract for new Tyne and Wear Metro trains is baffling but not surprising. Transport Minister defending it on tv.
    “Tech Tax”
    New Boss…Same as Old Boss.

  55. Gordon Nottingham
    January 30, 2020

    Off subject…any chance of giving Nigel Farage a role in negotiating with the EU, now hes out of a job?

    1. georgeP
      January 30, 2020

      Also especially that he hates the EU so much he’s going to forgo his EU pensiob

  56. Dee
    January 30, 2020

    You seem to miss the point John, maybe nationialisation won’t do any better that the foriegn private franchisers including Branson but at least we keep the profit we would make. As it is the taxpayer is paying as much now as before privatisation but getting non of the profite. You did the same with The Rock Bank, you gifted it to Branson for £500Million with all it’s assets
    but the banks debts were kept for the taxpayer to pay off. It is an old boys club. Why was Spain paid to build our trains? is it because like all our manufacturing businesses the Government of the day gifted them to the eu? I am 80 year old and I have watched successive Governments destroy our Country bit by bit so that their european friends could benefit from it. I have known every PM since Churchill and apart from Churchill and to a degree Thatcher, every single one of them has took us into and kept us in the eu by lies and deception. Even Boris, he has enough votes behind him to forget May’s WA and walk away. Why is he putting NI through their torment? He says they have a vote every 4 years but they no longer have a majority in Stormont. They have 8 seats, Sinn Fain (anti Brexit) have 7 seats, the SDLP (anti Brexit) have 2 seats so in any vote they will be outvoted and have to remain in the eu and they could well end up reuniting with Ireland. For these reasons, I do not trust Boris. We will soon see by what he does with our fishing and in July which is ‘supposed’ to be the last chance to ask for an extension, which of course Boris has vowed not to do. God help the peace of this Country if we are failed again. patience has its bounderies.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 31, 2020

      What on earth make you think the government will make a profit running it?

      1. Dee
        February 2, 2020

        It doesnt really matter because as things are we are paying regardless and what on earth makes you think they wouldn’t make a profit? We would have the same working staff minus shareholders. I am a Brexiteer but have always been of the view that the utilities should be a nationalised entity.

  57. steve
    January 30, 2020

    Just hand the whole lot over to the japs, then you’d get railways that work.

  58. acorn
    January 30, 2020

    The simplistic model for privatisation of natural monopolies created by the Conservative party, has inevitably fallen apart when stress tested post the 2008 crisis. Railways; Electricity; Communications; Gas etc etc. Complex systems, all artificially fragmented and deregulated horizontally for privatising. This has left the UK with the mess we are currently enduring. Mind you, the Spiv City 1% did very nicely out of it thank you.

  59. Lynn Atkinson
    January 30, 2020

    I’m afraid Boris is hopeless! Cummings for PM – he’s tidier too and knows how many children he has!

  60. glen cullen
    January 30, 2020

    The government owns all the land of both the railroad network track and all the motorways and associated surrounding land

    Can’t understand why HS2 has to purchase new land and discover new routes

  61. glen cullen
    January 30, 2020

    Please review the Great Central Railway. This ready-made high-speed line takes almost exactly the same route between London and the Midlands

  62. MeSET
    January 31, 2020

    ‘unworldly.’ not unwordly . Hell, it was a typo.

  63. kzb
    January 31, 2020

    Well rail privatisation has worked really well hasn’t it.

  64. alastair harris
    February 1, 2020

    Taking it back into government control is a mistake. The government has it in its gift to deal with the underlying issues. Difficult to build trust with business on this basis.

    1. Dee
      February 2, 2020

      How has the government in its gift to deal with the underlying issues. By paying out even MORE taxpayers money? They should Nationalise, that would get rid of foreign ownership, shareholders & the overlording profit. Look at the mess privatisation is making of the railways, and the unions strike and the taxpayer ends up paying the private railways compensation for loss of earnings? You couldn’t make it up!
      I am TBP a Brexiteer and it is the only thing me & Corbyn agree on.

  65. Martin
    February 1, 2020

    Your comments about Trade Unions was very revealing.

    I often suspected this would be the direction of travel for the Conservative Party to bind itself after Brexit.

  66. hefner
    February 3, 2020

    Getting to this particular blog quite late (03/02/‘20): I found an interesting item on website, a French site for railway lovers. Britain is now thought to be ‘willing’ to pay £307m per mile for HS2 in 2020. The item was comparing that to the €15.9m / km (2011 figure) that recent French TGV lines were costing about 10 years ago. Even accounting for a 2% inflation and converting km to mile, that would be a current €31 m per mile of French TGV line.
    So OK, the futur HS2 will/might whiz at 300miles per hour instead of the ‘snail-like’ 300km/hour of the TGV, but I know for using the TGV network that France has had its various South, North, West and East working branches starting in the ‘80s and being developed since.
    At times it is very difficult to reconcile these types of facts with the idea that the UK is such a great country, at least in terms of infrastructures.

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