The government’s transport budget is largely spent on the trains. They have a report which says that our railways are far less efficient and far costlier to run than comparable overseas systems. The government has said it intends to seek out better value for money. The need to control UK public spending demands more urgent attention to securing just that.
The first thing to address is the imbalance between the trains they run and the trains people want. They run too few trains with too few seats at peak hours on the popular commuting routes. They run too many trains with too many seats on many less popular routes and at less popular times of day. They need to increase capacity at peaks, and they need to get better at selling tickets for off peak and cross country.
The railway executives tell me they are now working on new signalling and braking systems which could increase capacity. Being able to run just 30 trains an hour on excellent routes right into the hearts our cities at peak times is a luxury we cannot afford. They must rapidly find ways to increase capacity by say 50%, increasing train frequency to 45 an hour from 30 an hour. Then they could provide a better timetable at peaks, and offer more seats so there was less overcrowding. They also need to sort out the leaves on the line/wrong kind of snow syndrome, by adding more traction to commuter stop start /trains.
The approach to ticketing seems complex and expensive. Either tickets should be inspected on trains by on board inspectors, or checked at entry and exit from the platform. Combining elements of both systems is wasteful. Control onto and off the platform is likely to be the cheapest way of doing it, and can be done by automatic equipment in the main. If there is a problem checking first class tickets in first class carriages, this can be done by catering staff as part of the payment and checking system for the food and drink offer.
The cross country and long haul railway is probably most productively used for freight. The railway needs to be more interested in single wagon marshalling and single load business. Rail freight has grown since privatisation, and there has been improvement in the offer. The old nationalised industry was only interested in trainload contracts. A whole generation of new business parks was built with motorway access instead of branch line connections to the railway as a result.