Saturday, 3 February 2007

Don’t take my word for it

In a recent debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Hanham pointed out the ludicrous control the Department for Transport exerts over the railway. She said:

“The Government's interference extends to government involvement in operations to the extent that officials are writing timetables—indeed, we have Douglas Alexander and his predecessor acting almost like modern-day Fat Controllers … the poorly defined and intrusive role of the Government is undoubtedly a root cause of the problems of the railways. What is required is a strategic framework of the railways, but it is the rail professionals who should run them. Misplaced micromanagement is directly responsible for the flaws and conflicts with the objective of allowing private enterprise to deliver the high-quality services that we all want”

Baroness Hanham is correct in her analysis and in her conclusion; and no where is this more evident than in the First Great Western franchise.

The fact that the Department for Transport insisted in setting the timetable, despite the fact it lacked the knowledge required to undertake such a task, is why so many critical services were cut. The fact that the Department for Transport wanted to strip costs out of the franchise by refusing to underwrite the leasing costs of carriages, despite the fact that it knew passenger numbers were continually rising, is why there are so many capacity problems on First Great Western services.

What the Department for Transport should have done is to determine the amount it wanted to extract from the franchise – i.e. how much First Great Western would have to pay the government for running the contract – and then let the First Great Western’s management team get on with the job of planning the day-to-day operations and timetabling.

If it had done this, there can be very little doubt that services would now be better – maybe not perfect, but certainly better.

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