Monday, 29 January 2007

The five golden rules of rail

1. If you allow civil servants in Whitehall to set a rail timetable you will get a service which isn’t driven by demand but, rather, is created on the back of political and financial considerations.

2. If the government cuts subsidy from the rail network or phases it out over time then some unprofitable services will disappear; capacity on unprofitable routes will be diminished.

3. If you have a franchise bidding process which makes it ever more expensive for train operating companies to run services, fare increases will naturally follow.

4. If you only offer companies short term franchises of 10 years, you won’t get significant and continuing levels of capital investment from those firms; this is especially so if the cost of running the services is pushed ever higher.

5. If you permit excessive levels of political interference in the day-to-day running of rail services, you’ll end up with a network which is unresponsive to consumers and unattractive to investors.

In other words: the recent spate of problems with First Great Western are, in the main, political problems. They are the direct result of a rail system which is subject to unwarranted levels of political interference by people who are uncommercial, know little about rail and have no incentive to deliver good levels of customer service.

Would a rail system run solely by First Great Western, without political meddling, be perfect? Probably not. Would it be a lot better than the rail system we have now? Absolutely.

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