What a way to run a railway


One of the most absurd fictions shared by government and opposition in the UK is that Network Rail is a private sector company. As such Ministers fear to interfere with it, and the PAC under Mrs Hodge refuses to examine its spending habits. We have to rely on the Office of Rail Regulation to avoid capture and provide some small voice for the taxpayer.

Network Rail is as much a part of the public sector as the current Royal Mail or the NHS. It has no private shareholders. The members of the company limited by guarantee are selected by the management, who also select each other in most cases. It is the result of the state under Labour acquiring the privatised Railtrack.

You can see just how much part of the public sector it is if you look at the financing. The massive £30bn debt is effectively government guaranteed. 62% of the revenues of the company comes in the form of a government grant. The 27% that comes as payments from train companies using the network also comes from sources heavily influenced by the state, in some cases run by the state, and subsidised by the state. I have set out before some of the financial losses made by the company on its financial transactions.

The Office of Rail regulator thinks there is substantial scope for improvement in financial and operational management. In their report on the 2011-12 performance they said

“It is critically important that the rail industry delivers significant improvements in value for money. …compared to 2008-9…UK rail industry costs could be reduced by between £2.5bn and £3.5bn per annum by 2018-19” (70% of that applies to Network Rail)

They went on to express “serious concerns about aspects of Network Rail’s asset management” and concerns about the percentage of trains not running on time owing to faults of the network operator.

In the last year they reported on Network Rail did cut its costs. They need to do much more, both to reduce costs and to improve the quality of work and the responsiveness of the business to change.

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  1. Leslie Singleton
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Given that it is obvious that HS2 will run at a loss from inception, no doubt with an immediate re-organisation to do the usual and write off debt and with a latter-day Beeching recommending closure straight off the bat, would it not be better to avoid the massive and ballooning initial costs, disruption and destruction and not proceed in the first place? Apart from all else, by no means everybody lives in or wants to travel first to London just to get to Birmingham, at any speed. The idea that this idea would produce benefits for the country is just plain bonkers.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Exactly, anyway people now can work on the train so getting there a tiny bit faster is irrelevant. Also it takes longer than that to buy the tickets. Just let them buy the tickets while on the train and save all the construction costs and you have saved them the 10 minutes too.

      The scheme is already doing huge damage and blighting areas for no benefit at all. It will disrupt for countless years to come. Is no one numerate in this government?

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        I see Maria Miller is behaving like a typical Cameron appointment in attacking the BBC, not for its absurd lefty, quack green, pro EU bias and its endless waste but just for being sexist. All because one sports reporter was a little ungallant about Marion Bartoli’s appearance.

        People do judge both men and woman on their appearance, it may not be fair, but it ain’t going to change. The dopey Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities just needs to grow up and get over it. Why on earth is there such a cabinet position anyway?

        Many watching would clearly have had the same thoughts as the reporter anyway.

        The BBC is indeed sexist mainly being very anti male. The hilarious Woman’s Hour is always calling for active discrimination against men in order to get equal pay. When will they learn that woman and men simply do not, on average, have the same motivations. This is very clear from every survey done. Many state school have no girls studying physics at all for example are they going to force them to?

        • Leslie Singleton
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          lifelogic–I am not up to speed on this lady (Thank God). Does her title really include the word “Equalities” (plural)? Absurd–how many does she want?? As I keep saying, it should in any event be “Identity” these days. Know what I mean? Men play golf therefore (I don’t think) men wanting to play golf together are to be made illegal for all I know. I don’t believe many women believe that, at least I hope not. And it has to be remembered that like it or lump it La Donna e mobile. For instance I understand that women once agitated (and the WI was literally founded to campaign) for women not to have to go out to work once they had had children. I don’t think women are daft enough to buy Cameron’s silly attempt to attract their votes in this transparent way.

          • margaret brandreth-j
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            There is nothing more fickle than those who seek to take advantage of others . In this case HS2 and billions.

        • waramess
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          My God, they still have Womans Hour?

          Nothing like a special programme for the little woman, eh? And there was I thinking women were indeed equal. Wrong again.

          • iain gill
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

            women only waiting room in coventry station always upsets me

          • Jerry
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            @waramess (and LL): the BBC actually have a programme called “Men’s Hour” on Radio Five, whilst of course many consider that “Top Gear” is more about Boys Toys than anything to do with actual motoring and motorists…

            As for LL comment about girls studying physics, how many state schools have boys studying dress making (or as I should say, Needle craft) ?!

            Put your sexists comments away lads, the only people you are showing up as narrow minded are yourselves. 🙁

          • Edward2
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            Indeed waramness
            Perhaps men should begin a campaign for a BBC Radio 4 Mens Hours fronted by Boris or Jeremy Clarkson?

          • lifelogic
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            Jerry I am all for letting people of either genders do what ever they choose too, but the idea that it should always be 50/50 by government/BBC decree is bonkers. The genders simply have different motivations and interests on average.

            I do not think I would tune in to a Top Gear type of men’s hour program, but woman’s hour is always hilarious, a stream of (word left out) women and the odd Guardian man paraded with bonkers and usually self contradictory views for our amusement.

            Spending half the time saying genders are equal and half saying how much better woman are at languages, empathy, communications and multi-tasking. If they are so good and so much cheaper than men anyone employing just women would clearly make a killing. Woman’s hour seems not to notice this logic.

        • Hope
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          The HS2 project is a dictat from the EU to have rail links to all major cities across the EU. This is Cameron’s negotiation style with the EU, roll over and go belly up.

          Has the expense (question ed)regarding Miller been resolved? Far more important to the public that ministers act with the highest standards not race to the bottom of public life and ask for a 10 per cent pay rise. More important still is the £100 million overspend on the BBC’s new building,£100 million spent on a failed computer and £25million for severance pay. Add the inappropriate deeply liberal reporting and we have an organisation not fit for purpose and nothing is being done about it other than drivel about a one off comment! Tory government always looking at the bigger picture as usual- not.

      • zorro
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, install free wi fi and other business facilities/conveniences as appropriate….a lot cheaper than £30+billion pounds for a small saving in time. I have recently travelled to Birmingham and Cardiff from London on business by train to test it out (at peak times). Lots of space but wifi not working on FGW to Cardiff. Get that sorted and 30 minutes means nothing….


    • Pleb
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      It would be better to make the M40 6 lanes than the batty train idea from swivel eyed pointy heads.

  2. Jerry
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Many would not bat an eyelid if NR was accepted by the political class as being state owned and thus be subject to the parliamentary scrutiny you mention, it was only the fact that Blair’s government wanted to follow the course set by the Thatcher/Major governments in relation to (once) nationalised industries, and thus when RailTrack (or as many at the time called it “FailTrack”) needed to be bailed out in 2001 the government chose to create a faux private company rather than simply re-nationalise.

    • zorro
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Nationalisation would be better than the fudge at present I guess, even MT was not that sold on BR privatisation….


      • Cary
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Margaret Thatcher rejected proposals for rail privatisation when they were presented to her. I believe one of her objections was that it would mean handing a large subsidy to a private firm over which the government would have no effective control (under BR it could at least sack the board), the very point JR is making.

        Nationalisation is the best option but for any party to do this would be awkward to advocate as the Tories started the current mess, Labour and the Lib Dems have done nothing to sort it out.

  3. Richard1
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    If it is the case, as seems entirely possible, that within a generation we will have driverless cars, railways will become redundant. There will be no need for traffic controls and therefore no congestion, and passengers will have 100% travel flexibility. We should therefore be very cautious indeed about ‘investing’ further public money in subsidizing hugely expensive and inflexible railways.

    • Edward2
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Indeed Richard,
      Being involved in engineering, I have recently had the opportunity to see at first hand driverless vehicles being tested on private proving grounds in this country.
      They are already being driven in long term tests on roads in the USA and have completed millions of trouble free miles. They are very close to being road ready.
      It will be the next transport revolution and it will reset all the current arguments about HS2, coach travel, rail travel and bus travel.
      If Governments would give a fast go ahead to allowing the “wires in the road” to be laid down, then the revolution could be here first.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      @Richard1: If we should ever have driver-less [1] cars, and that is a big if, we might not need Network Rail but Network Road as the main trunk routes are tarmacked over and you can be sure that HMG will have a quango to control, regulate and tax its use…

      [1] most likely not actually diver-less, just that control is taken over either in full on certain express-ways or partially, there will never be the complete flexibility you suggest.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        When we say “driverless cars” most people understand that there will be someone in the car, who is a properly licensed driver, who will sit behind the wheel, not in the back reading the paper and having a coffee!

        The benefits would be on long journeys on motorways where the driver could relax as the car does all the steering and braking, keeping a safe distance from cars in front.
        But the systems being trialled would also work in cities and in heavy traffic.

        If you look up driverless cars on the web you will see that several states in the USA have already passed laws allowing such cars onto their roads.
        Its not an “if” just a “when”

        • Jerry
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          @Edward2: No the driver would be reading in the front using the steering wheel as a book rest, or perhaps texting or perhaps even cat-napping, thus if the automated system failed at 70mph they would not be ready at all to take over control! It is one thing to conduct tests, it is another thing entirely to set such technology free on the unthinking public to abuse and trash…

          I’m not dismissing the idea entirely, just that it won’t be the sort of technology to be used for the trip to the shops and probably not the average daily commute in built up areas (far to many variables), as I said it’s use will most likely be on built or adapted “express ways”. Oh and just because the USA does something it doesn’t mean that it is desirable nor safe, after all the USA allow undertaking, probably pone of the most unsafe act a driver can carry out, especially when close to a junction/slip lane…

          • zorro
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

            Having driven recently driven in the USA you really do have to keep all four eyes in the driving mirrors!….particularly watching out for loose blocks of timber falling off the back of pickup trucks!….not forgetting continual texting and talking on mobile phones…..Banning them will endanger their civil liberties….apparently.


          • Bazman
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

            The driverless car looks like a reality in the very near future. It is not some science fiction dream. The technology is still in the making. Maybe simple or maybe very complicated or both. This will happen and have many implications as driving is a big employer. Who would have ever thought we would see mobile phones as they are and sat nav? You can argue all day how it will not work, but looks like it will.

          • Edward2
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

            I’m very glad you are not dismissing the idea entirely.
            But I would suggest you go away and do some research.
            Your posts on this subject are displaying a worrying lack of knowledge.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

            Bazman: “The driverless car looks like a reality in the very near future. It is not some science fiction dream. The technology is still in the making.

            In the 1960s many suggested, and the technology was already available, that people would have their own helicopters to commute with…

            @Edward2: “Your posts on this subject are displaying a worrying lack of knowledge.

            Far from it, in fact you couldn’t be more wrong! I know the technology exists and understand how it works, it is just that I tend to cut through the spin. I well remember the problems some drivers found themselves in when ABS was let loose on the unsuspecting public – “why did I smash into the back of that car, I’ve got ABS, it should have stopped that happening!”. There was a clue to why I might well understand something about this in one of my replies to either you or that non libertarian chap, I might actually understand more than you do – just a thought…

          • Bazman
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            The helicopter problem relies on very expensive equipment maintenance and running costs not to mention navigational and landing needs this is not the same problem as driverless cars Jerry, but whilst we are on the subject where is my flying car!

    • uanime5
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      How will a driverless car remove congestion? Most roads are congested because too many people are trying to use them at the same time.

      Also traffic controls will still be needed for when pedestrians want to cross the road.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Indeed congested because too many people are trying to use them at the same time and there is under capacity due to the green religion and the mad idea that trains and buses are greener, they are not. Also they have been blocked by bike and bus lanes, islands, environmental areas and other government lunacies.

        The way round this is to tax drivers at peak times with an electronic systems and reduce other motoring taxes to compensate. Get rid of the absurd delays caused by the inefficient Dartford bridge tolling at the same time. Then you can also charge overseas users of the roads too.

        Some road should just tunnel under the pedestrians far safer.

        • JimF
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          To extend the idea, there is no reason (on motorways at least) not to have far faster journeys for driverless cars. Once the technology is assured, cars could nip up the M1 to Brum at 300mph beating Hs2 by a country mile!

          • Edward2
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

            It is very possible that journey speeds might increase as a result of this technology but there is the “convoy theory” which suggests things in a line travel at the speed of the slowest vehicle in that line, whatever lane you might be in.
            Its worth pointing out that these vehicle will never break the speed limit as they will take data via GPS to keep the vehicle at or below the posted limit for the road you are on.

        • uanime5
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          An alternative is to increase the number of people working flexible hours, so that everyone isn’t trying to get to work by 9am.

          Though this wouldn’t fix traffic jams caused by parents taking their children to school, unless schools had a variety of opening hours. For example the early morning lessons are also repeated in the afternoon for children who can’t arrive in the morning for whatever reason.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 20, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          Let me try again as obviously something is causing a problem in my original comment for John, I will cut to the core

          @Lifelogic: Trains and Buses might or might not be any more green than a car but they are very much more efficient though, take your average bus – door to door they carry 70+ passengers, a car, no more than 9 with luck. Let’s now turn to trains, London Victoria train or coach station (or for the car passenger, close-by Belgravia…) to Brighton, by car with no more than 9 aboard a good 1hr 30mins on a good day, a coach with 70 on board again a good 1hr 30mins if not 2hrs, a train with anything up to a ~900+ on board, less than 1hr, no more than 1hr 15mins if the train stops at East Croydon and Gatwick.

          • Neil Craig
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            This assertion requires us to believe that the average bus is carrying 70 passengers all day. Anyone looking at one passing during anything but rush hour is likely to notice that 7 would be on the high side.

          • Edward2
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            Wrong again Jerry
            If you look up the CO2 output per passenger mile and compare the various forms of land transport and allow for the average loadings in each form of transport then there is little to choose, in fact a modern efficient car is said to be most green.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

            Edward (and Neil): I get the feeling that if I was to say that the colour black is the same colour as coal you would find fault…

          • Edward2
            Posted July 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            In the engineering industry Jerry there are over a hundred shades of black paint with anthracite being just one.
            Actually some different types of coal can vary from dark brown to dark grey and to a purple shade.

          • Neil Craig
            Posted July 23, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

            I get the feeling, Jerry, that if, to promote “green” claims, pseudo-environmentalists had to pretend to see all buses full all the time, they would be willing to ignore the evidence of their own eyes and say it was so. And even stranger, expect others to see the same mirage.

            Indeed I get the feeling that is what you have done.

          • Lindsay McDougall
            Posted July 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

            Yes indeed. If you put 2 people in a typical car, emissions per passenger mile are less than by train (for electrified trains, you need to compute fuel burnt at the power station, including an allowance for transmission losses). Trains would be more efficient if they ran full, but off peak they don’t.

      • Bazman
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        Much congestion is cause by the drivers acting as one. It will not solve all the problems of the road, but is going to be a massive help especially after a few beers. It will be that good. I’m not a massive technology enthusiast and thought for example that anti lock brakes on a sports bike was just silly and dangerous. At first they were, now they work very well as do many electronic aids on bikes almost defying gravity and physics.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Well Uni the car will be able to recognise pedestrians in the road and will brake to a stop if required and it will also be able to recognise red or green lights.
        Congestion will still be a problem.
        These vehicles will make getting from A to B more relaxing and safe.

        • uanime5
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          How will it recognise a pedestrian in the road? Will it have some sort of radar? I’d imagine that it will be more difficult to detect a child in front of the car than another car.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 20, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          @Edward: How will the system be able to recognise red or green lights if there are multiple aspects being shown, how will it now that it is safe to filter but not use the main route, how will it cope with dirt on the light lens or it’s own detector, how will it cope should the lights fail and all the stop lines become “Give Way” markings, will it need a sat-nav type system and thus know that traffic lights should be present, will every set of traffic lights need some other transmitter added, what if any of these system fails etc. etc?

          • Edward2
            Posted July 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            Relax Jerry, us engineers have all the answers to your worries but Im sorry I just don’t have the time to explain it all to you.
            Have a look on the t’internet it will tell you whats happening.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

            @Edward2: “Relax Jerry, us engineers have all the answers to your worries but Im sorry I just don’t have the time to explain it all to you.

            More hot air than found in the engine shrouding of a VW Beetle in a heatwave…

          • Edward2
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            No need for irrelevant and silly comments Jerry
            I was simply trying to guide you to where you can find all the info you need to answer your questions seeing as you rarely believe or agree with anything I say
            How that can then be described as hot air is beyond me.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            @Edward2: How many times, I am not questioning the fact that the technology exists, I am questioning both it’s safety and real life implementation. Are you really saying such a system would allow a blind person to be put in the drivers seat and set off to do their daily commute or shop, that is the sort of reliability it will need.

      • richard1
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

        Driverless cars will remove congestion as journeys will be able to be pre-programmed and matched to other journeys in demand. There will be no unexpected queues requiring traffic lights to regulate them. Perhaps there will be differential road pricing as a further mechanism, with major roads run and financed privately. In any event let’s not waste all this money on projects such as HS2, it will surely seem an absurd white elephant in 30 years.

      • Mark
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Automated vehicles have far faster reaction times than humans so that they will start in a queue of traffic almost simultaneously with the vehicle in front, and adjust speed by braking or reducing engine power sooner, allowing them to travel closer together. They also don’t leave unnecessary gaps in roadspace, or indulge in tailgating with sharp braking (which is one of the main causes of traffic jams on motorways), or fail to signal when changing lanes. These features have all been studied extensively in testing and modelling. Cars that drive in traffic jams will start appearing on our roads next year. Once they have about 25% penetration the benefits on general traffic will become apparent.

        If all vehicles are equipped it is estimated that 50% more traffic can flow on the same road.

  4. Roy Grainger
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    You imply that Ms Hodge of the PAC avoids this issue because it is seen as a private sector company, however that has not prevented her from inviting assorted big cheeses from Google, Amazon etc. to appear before her so she can grandstand and insult them in public. There must be another reason why she doesn’t – (what might it be ed)

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      @Roy Grainger: Does Network Rail not pay UK tax?…

  5. Andyvan
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Of course it’s badly run and would be bankrupt if it wasn’t paid for by us tax sheep. Every part of the public sector is the same and always will be. All the talk of improving performance is just hot air. I’ve heard the same waffle from ministers and MPs all my life and if it was going to happen it would have done in the 1970s, face it public sector = inefficiency and waste.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      @Andyvan: Talk about the socially blind preaching to the politically blind…

    • Credible
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Hmm lets think
      Water company monopolies, lets hope the hot spell doesn’t last another week!
      Private rail companies, tax subsidised and unaffordable fares
      G4S – they did well for the Olympics
      Private banks, they only caused our current financial mess
      Private care homes, many instances of how not to care
      Energy companies, expensive tariffs designed to be complicated
      My local car dealership, several weeks of complete incompetence

      Now of course there are parts of the public sector that need to improve (the house of commons stands out), but the public sector bad private sector good mantra is just simplistic dogma.

      • waramess
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        Credible, this is a load of bollocks. Government exists amongst other things not to run businesses but to ensure the private sector deliver what’s on the label and, to ensure robust competition. Nothing more.

        If the government were doing its job then the problem with the utility companies would not exist and they would not have allowed the regulator to cosy up quite so close to the providers.

        Frankly it would not take more than a five year old to work out how to achieve competition between the utility providers.

        As for your local dealership, competition should sort that one out in time or customers will vote with their feet

        • Jerry
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          Waramess, this is a load of (nonsense ed)… Sorry but government is there to do what government thinks correct, what it thinks is best, only those with vestige interests think that governments exist to protect their particular set of interests, most plebs on the other hand think governments exist to run the country. So if a government thinks this is served best by the state owning the mass transport system or not, say, then that is what will be – if the plebs do not like things one way then they can vote that government out of office at the election – which is of course what happened in both 1964 and 1979, two classic examples of this happening.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

            @JR edit: Oh right, so “waramess” can describe someone else’s comment as a rude word but I can’t, even if in doing so I am simply throwing the insult back in his (?) face with a little tongue-in-cheek irony? Oh well at least we now know that if the right-wing throw insults that’s OK but if the centre or left do so their words will be edited out!…

          • waramess
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

            Jerry, your opinion is, of course, in the majority. Governments are elected to do whatever they like and if we don’t like it the plebs can vote the other lot in.

            Except it doesn’t work quite like that. both ministers and MP’s were fiddling their expenses but, were it not for a national newspaper, they would have escaped untouched.

            Perhaps you did not mean fraud; perhaps you meant they could send my pension contributions overseas in the form of AID that cannot be afforded and then call all pensions “benefits” as if they were just another handout

            You get the drift. We are stuck with two main parties who exist as a result of their undemocratic whipping sytem and it is in their interest to make sure the majority of the population believe there is no option.

            We are told even by our host that without whipping the country would be ungovernable when that is far from true.

            We exist under a set of laws that work quite well today and, should insufficient MP’s independently support change then they will work just as well tomorrow.

            The electorate have very little choice because they are willing to tag along, allowing the politicians from whatever party to determine the “common good” even where it is painfully obvious not for the common good but just a fun project to initiate with taxpayers money.

            The subsidising of railways is an indirect subsidy for business because it permits commuters to live outside London at the taxpayers expense whereas it should be at their companies expense. That is, they should pay more in salary, if that is what it takes.

            And then there is Culture….

            Sheeple was a term developed on the web for such attitudes and sheeple it is, for they have little power left other than to vote for which slaughter house they might end up in

          • Jerry
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            waramess: “Except it doesn’t work quite like that. both ministers and MP’s were fiddling their expenses [../cut the rest of the hyperbolic miss understanding of democracy/..]

            Don’t start on that old chestnut, of course it was wrong, but stand up the men or women who have never fiddling their own work/business expenses or had an unpaid/taxed perk, unofficial paid time off work etc.

        • Credible
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

          They are all correct examples of private sector failure.
          If a regulator is needed and the regulation doesn’t work, the premise for privatisation in the first place is flawed.

      • APL
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        credible: “Water company monopolies, lets hope the hot spell doesn’t last another week!”

        The water companies may be private monopolies but the population that makes demands on the system is under the non control of the politicians.

        The water infrastructure has largely remained unchanged, while the politicians have overseen a dramatic increase in the population.

        At the same time the water companies continue to be subject to ever increasing regulations. One would have thought we never had clean water in this country before we joined the EEC.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

          @APL: “The water infrastructure has largely remained unchanged, while the politicians have overseen a dramatic increase in the population.

          Funny how the likes of Mr H. Ford (Jnr) managed to accommodate the needs of the increase in the population (wanting to drive), funny how the supermarkets have accommodated the needs of the increase in the population (wanting to shop), funny how the (now) private omnibus companies have accommodate the needs of the increase in the population (wishing to travel) etc.

          Sorry but the soles reason why the UK’s drinking and waste water infrastructures have largely remained unchanged even though there has been a dramatic increase in the population and thus housing is due to underinvestment by the (now) private water companies, something that wasn’t the case when the water companies were state owned and planed – the needs of the population being put before the needs of the shareholders and directors bonuses.

          • APL
            Posted July 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            Jerry: “Sorry but the soles reason ..”

            You claim one reason, but go on to cite two, viz;
            “there has been a dramatic increase in the population”

            So we agree. The population rising by ten to twenty million in thirty years – and agreed, investment in new reservoir has not kept up.

            But the immigration, as has been admitted by Labour was a clandestine policy.

            And …. it is not as if you can pop a reservoir in your back garden – such a project probably takes a couple of years.

            But anyway, planning for these things are in the gift of government.

            So in my opinion, the buck stops there.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

            @APL: “But anyway, planning for these things are in the gift of government. So in my opinion, the buck stops there.

            Not since privatisation is hasn’t, the buck stop with who need to invest the money, and that is the private utilities, unless of course you want the utilities bailed out like the banks were with tax payers money and if that happens you can be sure that many will see red and call for renationalisation…

            It also seems very strange that whilst the utilities were nationalised the nation could build whole new towns (quite literally), now we seem to get problems if a mere 100 homes are built! 🙁

  6. lifelogic
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Indeed what a way to run anything. Were not EU rules, on separation of asset ownership, in part to blame yet again, for this mess (along with Labour of course). As you say who is protecting the tax payers & customers and making sure it is not run (like much of the state sector) for the benefit of the management? No one, as usual seems to be the answer.

    I rarely use trains now, other than the absurdly expensive Gatwick Express on some occasions. I tend to find that working out the journey plan, the train times and which ticket to buy is too time consuming. You can take as long doing this, as doing the actual journey itself. Even in a rented car it usually cost the same or even more and it is far less flexible, comfortable or convenient.

    This is despite the lack of UK road space, bridges and congestion caused by anti-car light phasing, bus/bike lanes, empty buses stopping at the time, and the other road blocking measures by government, following their bogus green religions. Fuel consumption in cars is often doubled due to congestion caused by these idiotic road blocking measures. What is green about that? Just build some decent faster roads and get some more coaches for those without cars? What happened to 80 MPH on motorways has that gone too, along with cast iron, the IHT threshold and the married allowance?

    I see Cameron is still banging on about tax havens and yet, in the UK, he (sensibly) offers one of the best tax havens going just £30K PA tax (providing you are not a British worker drone and can thus be non dom). Is this not a bit hypocritical? Has he decided what EU powers he want back (but will never get) yet?

    What are the odds of the absurdly uneconomic HS2 actually happening JR? They are already destroying businesses and blighting properties all over the place I see.

  7. alan jutson
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    It just confirms many thoughts, that the so called privatisation of the railways was a shambles.
    Yes we have more modern carraiges and trains, but at what cost, given the government/taxpayer is still involved in yearly expenditure.

    HS2 is likely to compound the problem on cost grounds alone.
    If it was ever going to be profitable, then private finance would be lining up to own and pay for it.

    Same could be said of electricity generation, without government / taxpayer subsidy, all these so called alternative sources of power would vanish until the engineering aspect was developed further, to make them more efficient.

    If we want the private sector involved, then we have to set out sensible ground rules at the outset if we want to protect both the taxpayer and the proposed customers/users of the service.

    If we want the taxpayer to own a business, then it is the governments duty to run it as efficiently as possible, and not on a simple political bias.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      All forms of power generation require subsidies. Even ENF is demanding subsidies to build new nuclear power plants.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        This in not true Gas, Oil & Coal do not & indeed they are taxed with absurd Carbon taxes.

        • Bazman
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          As pointed out to you before the oil and gas industries receive massive subsidies…

          • Jerry
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

            @Bazman: And as was pointed out to you by many people, no they do not, tax-breaks are not the same as subsidies.

          • uanime5
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink


            Firstly tax breaks are an indirect subsidy. Secondly pretending that all the energy generation methods you like get tax breaks, while those you don’t like get subsidies just shows how biased you are.

          • Bazman
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

            A tax break for a profitable industry with a ever high commodity price is a subsidy. They are also subsidised by not having to pay for the pollution they cause in many forms.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

            @U5: Think what you, the fact is you (and Bazman) are still wrong Try thinking about how the “grant” is funded, the direction of the money, tax breaks pays for themselves (whilst still paying a tax into the Exchequer and thus revenue), whilst subsidies are paid for by the Exchequer, out of revenue

        • Jerry
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          @Lifelogic: Cough, remind us just how much public money was sunk into the UK coal mines between 1947 and the mid 1990s?! That was a very large lump of subsidy, in fact had the NCB not been such a money drain I suspect that the Tory government would have been a little more sympathetic to the industry once the unions power had been curtailed.

      • Jerry
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        @U5: Indeed, if a government needs to subsidise an industry or service then the state should own the infrastructure – it is not a free market if the private owners then need government money, it is a cash-cow for the private investors…

        • uanime5
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          You do realise that tax breaks are a form of subsidy; so by your logic if shale gas need subsidies to encourage people to invest in it then the state should own all the infrastructure.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

            @U5: No they are not, see by other reply where you made the same rather silly comment above. One pays for its self, the other doesn’t, think about it!

          • Bazman
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

            If the bushiness is very profitable without tax breaks why should they get them? This makes the rest of us subsidising the infrastructure and education system that allows them to make the profits.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            @Bazman: If there was no tax break there would be no extra tax paid, without the tax break there would be even less money flowing into the exchequer, you seem to be forgetting that this is new tax revenue not revenue from some other (previously existing) activity.

          • Bazman
            Posted July 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

            The tax breaks are not just for new activities and you are telling us that tax breaks raise more tax? Get real if they did there would be lobbyists for abolishing tax breaks.

  8. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit puzzled here, JR, because you write: “the PAC under Mrs Hodge refuses to examine its spending habits”, but does that mean that she is blocking it or that the other committee members also don’t want to do it, even though large sums of public money are involved?

  9. Anonymous
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    The re-nationalised ECML TOC (formerly GNER) is in profit.

    Why re-privatise ?

    Rolling stock built under nationalisation and paid for by the taxpayers is now owned and hired out by private leasing companies at huge profit. Is this fair ?

    Do you think that there was anything that BR did that was good ? (No-one denies that it was flawed – though it was seriously underfunded as the increased Govt subsidy of the railways to the privatised companies rather proves.)

    • Iain Gill
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      East Coast is producing a surplus yes. Profit depends how you look at previous years public funds that have poured in and been written off. Prices for passengers are far too high, and given that many of their routes are basically monopoly provision making money isnt that hard.

      Any idiot running a monopoloy and allowed to charge very high prices can make a surplus, and that is East Coast at the moment.

      • Anonymous
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        ‘Allowed to charge very high prices’

        You’re mistaken to think that privateers would charge any less. In fact they will go for what the market can bear probably as has the nationalised version.

        • Iain Gill
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          yes but the governments role is regulation not running everything in sight!

  10. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    On a news programme last night HS2 was featured .It was argued by a Rail manager, that the money for Hs2 amounting to billions , ignored the fact that the northern rails were now in need of update and repair , due to cuts and the money should be wisely spent on these improvements. No mention was made of the safety aspect of under spending which surely should be of upmost concern.

  11. Acorn
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I haven’t been on a train in the UK for ages. JR, you must put in a lot of miles; have you worked out what it costs you per passenger mile, on average over a year say?

    Charts 7 and 9 on the DfT indicators site, shows total subsidy and costs http://charts.dft.gov.uk/dft-business-plan/indicators/#07 . You can see the split subsidy between TOC and NR at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rail-subsidy-per-passenger-mile .

  12. Mark
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I read through the White Paper on roads


    It’s a confused muddle – long on puff and short on detail, and rather hard to disentangle any proper comparative data. At present, PESA data show the £20bn of annual government spending on transport is split to give £7.6bn to rail (handling 7% of the traffic) and £8bn to roads (handling nearly 90% of the traffic), with another £3.5bn on subsidising other public transport. The spending promises are £15.1bn on strategic roads by 2021 (£1.8bn a year), plus £12bn on resurfacing/maintenance (£1.5bn a year), £0.9bn on subsidies to electric cars (£0.1bn a year), and £6bn on maintenance for local roads (£0.75bn a year) – or in total £4.2bn a year – or about half of current spending unless I missed something. Presumably this is all part of the need to finance HS2 so far as the DfT is concerned.

    There is also a plan to turn the Highways Agency into a company rather similar to Network Rail – government owned, yet supposedly freed from red tape to become an efficient wonder.

    The flagship project is to make the M1/M6 entirely a managed motorway from London to Manchester. That means gantries imposing lower speed limits unnecessarily if we can judge from the way these are operated on existing stretches of M25, M42 etc. – presumably to try to make HS2 seem more attractive.

    There is passing mention of the potential for new technology creating autonomous automated vehicles, and talk of a trial of vehicles from Nissan on public roads soon. However, thinking in this area appears to be at no more than a rudimentary stage, because this technology could fundamentally transform the railway network as well as the roads, allowing much higher traffic densities on both, and segregating heavy, slower freight traffic.

    There is a long way to go before we get joined up thinking at the DfT it seems.

    • margaret brandreth-j
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      The idea of segregating trucks from cars on the road is overdue. Whilst they need to continue with their logistics they also pose a threat to small cars as they waver in and out of traffic making smaller cars sway as they pass, and try and get into a lane to exit when there is a succession of trucks blocking the way.

      • Jerry
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        @margaret brandreth-j: Sorry Margaret but it is the car (and “white van”) drivers who need to learn to drive properly – but of course I say that as someone who has actually driven both cars and lorries, and as such I understand why lorries can appear to hog the road simply because they need more space to turn or stop etc. and thus I will give these lorries the space they need not cut them up like so many car drivers do, whilst often think that driving is a time to have a chat on the ‘hands-free’ or listen to their radio-CD / iPods (often via an amplifier bigger than most have in their homes) whilst thinking that they can’t be harmed ‘cos their car has ABS, air-bags, crumple zones, seatbelts and so on… Don’t get me started on the very poor standards of car driving from the majority of UK road users!

        • zorro
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          Lorries…aaarrrrghhh!…..These are the vehicles that insist on wasting fuel trying to overtake each other on the Motorways….’overtake’ here is defined as moving into the middle lane, then hogging it for miles before moving in to pass another lorry.


          • Jerry
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

            @Zorro: Are you seriously suggesting that all lorries should have to drive at the speed of the slowest, if you are might I suggest that all BMW owners drive at the same speed as the Morris Minor they are over taking on the blind bend never mind that there is the very strong possibility that there is oncoming traffic…

            Get real, and lean to be patient!

          • zorro
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            Jerry, your example of BMW drivers overtaking on blind bends is surely the exception. My example regarding lorry drivers is pretty ubiquitous and annoying. They really don’t get there faster and inconvenience other drivers who also have things to do….


          • Jerry
            Posted July 20, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            @Zorro: I take it that you have never driven a fully loaded (or empty lorry for that mater)? Lorries no more travel at unified speeds as do cars, you would no more expect a BMW to stay behind a slower moving car – as I said, just learn to be patient, any time lost to a lorry can be made up in the cars greater power to weight ratio whilst a lorry that is baulked from overtaking a slower HGV [1] can waste gallons of fuel, and will take longer to get back up to the speed (and thus time on the road and distance travelled [2]) compared to a car.

            [1] whilst speed might be matched on the flat, any rising gradient will effect lorries differently, heavily loaded or lower powered lorries will suffer a decrease in speed

            [2] remember that lorries are limited to the number of hours they can be on the road, unlike the average car driver, an hours delay can mean the difference between a lorry getting to its destination or being parked up on the side of the road

        • Bazman
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          Try riding a motorbike to see how stupid car drivers are. Many think they are at home. Trucks are on the whole predictable.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

            @Bazman: I totally agree, motorbike riders know how vulnerable they are so have respect for other road users, lorry drivers understand how vulnerable everyone else is (that is why they have to take extra tests and have medicals etc.), the average car driver thinks s/he is sitting at home in their lounge chair listening to their music whilst (as crazy as it is, it still happens) texting to their mates.

          • zorro
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

            Stop being ridiculous, the ‘average driver’ does not text their mates whilst on the motorways…stupid, inconsiderate ones do so…


          • Bazman
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

            The average driver does not appreciate the true danger of driving a car and you can see this by the way they drive and at a speed awareness course the average driver did not really take driving very seriously. More like fast walking to some.

    • stred
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      D’fT as a ‘private’ company with huge comparison pay for the top people! They may be unable to manage the rail and road system, but at least they know how to arrange a mega pay rise.

      • uanime5
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget that the 5 heads of Network Rail are going to get £5 million in bonuses if they meet their targets.

  13. Neil Craig
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    The deeper problem is not just state ownership but top down control. This is why there has been so little technological innovation that trains today are recognisably similar to Victorian trains, while cars have changed out of all recognition.

    For at least 2 decades there has been no technological reason why trains need drivers. We could have single units vehicles every few minute, 24/7 greatly increasing capacity & convenience and reducing costs.


    • uanime5
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Trains have changed a lot from the old coal driven trains of the Victorians. For example they use electricity and can travel much faster. You’ve also ignored that trains are made by private companies who compete for their customers.

      There are several reasons why driverless trains aren’t viable. Firstly they can’t detect obstructions on tracks such as animals, cars, or fallen trees. Secondly they can’t call their head office and ask if they can pass a signal set to Danger (so one faulty signal will effective stop all trains). Thirdly errors with the autopilot may result in the train passing through Danger signals or going too fast, resulting in an almost certain disaster. Fourthly the extra wear and tear on the trains travelling 24/7, and the extra conductors and signallers needed would remove any savings from having no drivers.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        In Japan there are already driverless trains in operation.
        Engineers are often clever and have solved the worries you have.
        The trains detect obstructions on the track and apply the brakes.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          @Edward2: TfL (and before, LT) have used automatic train operation trains since 1968 [1], that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trained driver on board, just in case of fault or failure – I have no reason to believe that it would not be the same in Japan. Sorry Edward but you are starting to show a very worrying lack of any real understanding of the technical aspects of automation, heck even a fully automated factory has trained operators on hand to sort out the mess when the automation goes wrong or stops and there we are not talking about any risk to human life, just profits…

          [1] Victoria Line

          • Edward 2
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            Well Jerry after just a few decades in the engineering industry I must bow to your obvious superior knowledge on this and every other subject you regularly us you are an authority on.
            Perhaps everyone else should stop making contributions and just read yours.

          • Edward 2
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

            If you have time today in between posting look up driverless trains on the web.
            It will improve your almost perfect current understanding of the technology.

          • Neil Craig
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            Docklands light is also automated already.

            Uni is, as normal, wrong & would have known it if he had bothered to check out the automated car driving systems which manage perfectly well to avoid stationary cars and falling trees (as well as the rather more difficult avoiding of moving cars). If he had ever used a dongle he would also know how easy it is for an automated train to stay in contact – much easier, actually, than those with jellyware driving systems.

          • Jerry
            Posted July 20, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            @Edward2: I, like many, could spit the same sort of comments back at you…

          • Edward2
            Posted July 20, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            Yes Jerry fair enough, but you claim for example that there are no driverless trains and a quick look on the internet will prove you are wrong, there are many in the world, working now, automated with no driver sitting in the front.

        • uanime5
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

          There are only a few Japanese “driverless trains”, almost all are used on tracks shorter than 10km (6 miles), and many have tyres so they’re more like giant buses.

          • Edward2
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

            Just have a look on the web, there are many completely driverless, computer controlled trains in operation all over the world operating quite successfully.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 21, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          @Edward2: I can’t help it if you misunderstand what I actually do say… Why would I claim one thing and then give an example of the opposite. You seem to be getting confused with “(driving) automation” and “driver-less”.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Neil Craig: “This is why there has been so little technological innovation that trains today are recognisably similar to Victorian trains, while cars have changed out of all recognition.

      Sorry, did I miss something, when did cars stop having four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel – if you think a modern high speed train is the same as trains were 50 years ago might I suggest as part of your summer holl’s you take a trip the NRM at York!…

      Cars look far more like they did 100 years ago than a train does.

      For at least 2 decades there has been no technological reason why trains need drivers

      Same with planes, why do they still have pilots, why do ships have a bridge when all they need is a radar, all have them for safety, to cope with the unexpected

      Sorry to say Neil but your comments seem born out of either a belief dogma or ignorance, certainly not any knowledge.

      • Bazman
        Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Big question as to what is safer pilot less planes or pilots? Many points for and against. Row with wife and getting drunk because of is not possible with a pilotless plane. However, all the instruments and latest technology tells us we are not going to crash into a mountain when clearly we are. Pilotless is winning.

        • Neil Craig
          Posted July 19, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          When I was young lifts had drivers (a guy in a cap pressing buttons). They seem to work quite safely nowadays without them

          • Bazman
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            Butlers also answered telephones too. I always get mine to tell the caller to *%6! off and I don’t see why anyone should have to fill their car with fuel or be my own checkout assistant either. The next thing will be pulling your own pint.

      • APL
        Posted July 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Jerry: “Sorry, did I miss something, when did cars stop having four wheels,”

        Back on topic of trains, HS2 while a stupid political vanity project at best and an unnecessary and expensive EU pet project at worst. Could have introduced some new by 18century standards to the transport link.

        HS2 could have been a maglev bullet type train.

        If our central planners has any spark of imagination.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          @APL: Building HS2 as a “maglev bullet type train” would make HS2 even more of a white elephant than it is already.

  14. Iain Gill
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    great post John.

    rather like other absurd fictions such as the money borrowed to build hospitals under PFI is not public sector debt eh?

    and the absurd fiction that patients in the NHS have any kind of choice?

    the absurd fiction that speed limits are set according to whats a realisitic safe level?

    or the absurd fiction that immigration is under control?

    or the absurd fiction that the universal credit project is on track?

    dont worry we the people are not that stupid!

  15. Robert Taggart
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The solution to the Railways privatisation was simple – BR PLC – honest.
    Signed, Right of Centre Anorak !

  16. uanime5
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    That’s what happens when the Government creates a public company to run something so they won’t get blamed when something goes wrong. I predicts that similar problems will occur when the NHS and Royal Mail are further privatised.

  17. Big John
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    One of the problems with the existing system, is you still has a monopoly company for each geographical area.

    It just amazes me that travelling by train costs more than travelling by car.

    In the past, I have rented a car as well, and it is still cheaper.

    Remove tax payer support, if they can’t compete with other modes of transport, then they should be closed down.

    If it was up to me, I would have tarmaced the rail lines, and let HGV’s and coaches pay a per mile fee, to use the new routes.

    This should create more competition, as different coach company’s could set there own prices picking up passengers from the stations.

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      For the most part the railways converted to roadways would be the width of B roads.

      This is why so many redundant ones become cycle paths.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      @Big John: “One of the problems with the existing system, is you still has a monopoly company for each geographical area.

      That is utter nonsense, unless you live in one of the few locations were passenger numbers (or possibly track layout) means that the service can’t actually support more than one TOC.

      If it was up to me, I would have tarmaced the rail lines, and let HGV’s and coaches pay a per mile fee, to use the new routes.

      Just tarmac over the rail lines the rail lines, year, that was suggested back in the 1980s and even Mrs T (no fan of railways) saw through it very quickly, even were the clearances allow it would cost a small fortune to rip up the tracks and build roads – just tarmac over, etc

      • Jerry
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        @JR non indicated edit: Why the need?! It was just a very obvious reference to problems of doing things on the cheap, or was it the the reference to a TV series, or perhaps you don’t know of the series/character, perhaps thinking I was referring to some real person person. Confused…

  18. Atlas
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    The railways should have been privatized back into the 4 groups. Why still 4? Because the routes of the groups were connected (merely the historical development of the system) and any other partitioning would be a worse fit.

    This way the railway companies would have control over the infrastructure, the timetable, as well as the rolling stock. Hence they can optimise their assets, which they cannot do now. All we get at present is A blames B and B blames C – which is excellent buck-passing, but the passenger loses out.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      @Atlas: Indeed but I would suggest five groups, four in England/Wales and one in Scotland – indeed the latter was all but up and running before the franchising off of routes in the early 1990s, it was called “Scotrail” (rather than just the branding it is used for today for services north of the boarder).

  19. zorro
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    John, don’t forget to mention that Network Rail seems to think that it is adept at big money currency swaps instead of concentrating on its core business!!


    • Iain Gill
      Posted July 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      One of my old customers was a paper maker. Very big manufacturing business. But they made more money from currency trades than they did from making paper. Funny old world eh.

  20. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Why don’t you deal with the root cause? Put Network Rail’s debt in the public domain, as part of the State’s overall debt, and give it a schedule to eliminate its debt. This entails forcing Network Rail to return to profitability (1) Set track access charges in accordance with market forces (2) Sell off surplus land (3) Set sensible budgets and frequencies for track maintenance (4) Don’t pay large bonuses to directors and managers with a poor track record.

    More radically, we could have regional vertically integrated rail companies and steadily eliminate State subsidy. These natural monopolies would need maximum competition from road and air transport.

    Either of these reforms would put the interest of taxpayers first. Now there’s a novel idea.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Lindsay McDougall: “(2) [NR should have to] Sell off surplus land

      One of the biggest handicaps NR now face is not having suitable land to expand some railway operations in and around populations centres, just think how impossible the CTRL would have been had BR/RT/NR etc. sold off the waste land that was the area now used for HS1 approach to St Pancras International. It would have likely mean that the CTRL either not being built into London or ending at Stratford (east London) and not at the showcase international gateway it does. Oh and that would likely have meant that Barlow’s master piece would likely still not have been restored either.

      Just because land is not being used it doesn’t mean it is surplus.

  21. Iain Gill
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Rail Specifications Manager: An opportunity has arisen to join a high profile client in London. The Rail Specifications Manager will identify what the government wishes the franchise to deliver which is affordable, within government policy, takes account of stakeholder aspirations and is possible to take to market.

    Experis are the agency if anyone is interested. Sounds like crystal ball needed!

  22. Peter
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post John.

    Thanks again for raising this issue. You appear to be the only MP who cares about this scandal.

    You are quite right to say that Network Rail is actually state-owned. Anyone can see that it doesn’t own the assets it claims to; any attempt to sell anything important off would be instantly blocked by the DfT.

    And of course its debts should be recorded as government debt. The way that its “private” status allows it to run up massive debts at the ultimate expense of the taxpayer is a national disgrace.

    What we need is either for it to be returned to official state ownership, where at least the situation will be transparent – or for it to be honestly privatised, with a responsible management team accountable to shareholders.

    I would much prefer the latter.

  23. england
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get four emails with the
    same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that
    service? Many thanks!

  • 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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