Getting back to work yesterday should have been easy, as the numbers of people travelling to work seemed well down. Fortunately I did not go by train and tube, as Westminster tube station was closed for engineering works, along with the Circle and District lines westbound and a large section of the Jubilee line. Some mainline trains were also still disrupted by the well advertised engineering works that have overrun and caused chaos at Christmas.
I understand the need to carry out engineering works. I understand the aim to do them when the country’s workforce is on holiday, though that disrupts people who want to travel to visit families and friends over the holiday period. This Christmas it seems that engineering works overran Network Rail’s planned times, leaving the railway struggling to meet demand and failing to keep people properly informed of what limited service is available. Once again the railway did not wish to provide a service on the holiday itself.
On Sunday morning I heard a review of the papers by three celebrities on Radio 4. They majored on condemning the appalling lack of service on some mainline train lines, loosely related to the papers they were meant to be reviewing. The high point came when Barry Cryer opined that we needed to nationalise the railways to sort out all these problems! Mr Cryer was apparently unaware that all the current engineering problems are the result of actions and inactions by Network Rail, the nationalised owner of the track and signals. He made no mention of the very highly paid Chief Executive of this nationalised company, a state employee, who thinks being on holiday is more important than sorting out the failings of his(and our) railway to do the engineering works on time and to keep travellers informed of changes to services. Worse still, the audience in the studio clapped his wish to see Network Rail nationalised as some of them are also unaware of our collective ownership and mismanagement of most of the railway’s assets!
As nationalisation clearly is not the answer, what is? In the short term a change of management would be a good idea. Surely the state could hire a better Chief Executive for less money than the current one? Someone with a sense of public service and duty, who would want to supervise when things might go wrong or have gone wrong. Better directions to Network Rail on what is expected, and a vigorous attack upon poor management to get more efficient use of the assets is the least that should happen. Longer term we may need structural changes in how our rail system is financed and managed.