System renewal. Challenging established notions. Reimagining our societies.

Nationalised and ‘privatised’ rail, the Treasury rules

1024px-Bombardier_Talent_im_Ennstal

I never went inter-railing, as so many of my friends did in the 1970s, but I have now to mark the imminent arrival of my sixtieth birthday. I went with my children and family, and the trip included Rome, Venice and Vienna, and – my goodness – was I didactic. I’m surprised they never throttled me.

As those who have read my short book about the Southern Rail fiasco will know (Cancelled!), I have recently found myself rather unexpectedly involved in the railway debate. The latest incarnation of this is on the new Financial Times TV report on rail privatisation, which – unusually for television – includes some definite facts which I didn’t know already. There I am in a disturbingly pink scarf.

But travelling around Europe by rail has given me a new perspective on the debate. The trains were not just on time, they were also comfortable, well-designed. And, they were also designed for human beings, unlike the new Southern and Thameslink trains, which look as if they have been designed to be hosed down after use.

The days when Laurence Olivier caught the Brighton Belle, and ate kippers all the way home after an opening night. Never mind the incessant lateness, the constant breakdowns, the sheer incompetence – it is the technocratic transformation of human trains to trucks that really upsets me.

I keep on being asked why. Why is it so bad in Sussex compared to continental rail travel?

Is it primarily because they are nationalised, integrated systems? Because that is the current solution being touted by the Labour Party.

I find myself explaining two peculiarities of the Govia franchise which better explain what has gone wrong. The first is the dysfunctional contract, whereby Govia only gets 3 per cent of the takings, and nothing they can do will make them more of a profit.

The second is that – because of the contract – the dead hand of the Treasury is hugely influential. This is ironic, because under both the current system, and the nationalised solution that Labour proposes, our trains  are run more or less directly by Treasury mandarins. Don’t let us pretend that anything about the current system has much to do with privatisation in any sense of the word.

And there you have what, to my mind, is the biggest threat to humane public services – direct control by the Treasury.

This post first appeared on the Real Press blog.

Help us lay the intellectual foundations for a new radical politics. Sign up to get email notifications about anything new in this blog.

Rate this post!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

Comments

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us
[type='radio']
[type='radio']
[type='checkbox']
[type='checkbox']
[type='submit']
[type='submit']
[type='button']
[type='button']
[type='image']
[type='image']
[type='file']
[type='file']
[gravityform id=4 title=false description=false ajax=true tabindex=87]
  • RSVP

  • We will process your data in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You may withdraw this consent at any time by emailing us.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
[type='radio']
[type='radio']
[type='checkbox']
[type='checkbox']
[type='submit']
[type='submit']
[type='button']
[type='button']
[type='image']
[type='image']
[type='file']
[type='file']
[gravityform id=2 title=false description=false ajax=true tabindex=69]
  • Join Our Movement

    Keep updated on what's going on. Get email notifications

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
[type='radio']
[type='radio']
[type='checkbox']
[type='checkbox']
[type='submit']
[type='submit']
[type='button']
[type='button']
[type='image']
[type='image']
[type='file']
[type='file']
[gravityform id=5 title=false description=false ajax=true tabindex=64]
  • Get emails

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
[type='radio']
[type='radio']
[type='checkbox']
[type='checkbox']
[type='submit']
[type='submit']
[type='button']
[type='button']
[type='image']
[type='image']
[type='file']
[type='file']
[gravityform id=6 title=false description=false ajax=true tabindex=999]
  • Before you go!

    Stay up to date with what's happening at Radix. Get email notifications

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.