Why privatisation made snow into an unbeatable enemy for our railways

By Dark Politricks

The last two weeks worth of severe cold weather in the UK has brought to light yet again what an appalling mess our national railway system is since privatisation.

I have never agreed with privatising state assets just for ideology’s sake as some things should be run for the benefit of everyone in the country rather than for the profit of a few such as hospitals and other health services.

Our national railway system is a perfect case in point as it shows the problems that are associated with believing that free markets will always drive prices down and that customers will always benefit from improved services due to increased competition between service providers.

For one thing it is impossible to have true competition on a railway as there is only one track that is shared by all trains and you physically cannot have two or more different trains running on the same track at the same time. Unless each train company was allowed to build it’s own infrastructure including stations, hundreds of miles of track linking major towns and branch lines and own it’s own rolling stock which would cost billions, take years to set-up and would never happen in this crowded country in a million years then the idea should have never been allowed to fly in the first place.

Since privatisation the cost of buying a ticket has gone up year by year and not downwards as free marketeers would have liked. This is not because of a lack in demand of the service either as no matter how bad our railway system gets there will always be millions of paying customers who are stuck in having to use them.

Getting a train into town during rush hour is a hellish experience in the UK.  I used to commute to London every day and I have done this journey both by train and by car. Even though sitting on the M3 at 6.30 in the morning crawling along at 5mph is not much fun either at least you are in the warm, listening to the radio and have your own choice of route and journey time.

Getting the train means getting a bus, lift or walking for 40 minutes to the main train station and then standing on a cold open air platform until a train arrives. Even though my town is on the mainline to Waterloo only 3 or 4 trains come past each hour and only 1 will be a fast, non stopping train that goes straight there.  The others will never break the 70mph speed limit and will have to stop at every village station on the way which adds an extra 15 minutes to a 40 minute journey.

The trains are always over crowded and you would be lucky to get a seat unless you get a really early or much later train. Therefore the train will always be full by the time it arrives at your station which means standing up for the best part of an hour rocking and swaying and trying not to fall into someone who’s lucky enough to be sat downs lap whilst trying to occupy yourself by reading the Metro one handed.

One return journey to London during rush hour gives little change out of £20 ($30) and it’s no wonder people would rather resort to driving even if it means parking up just outside the congestion charge zone and getting on a tube. If the government really wants to introduce a “green” agenda then they should be trying to make public transport as cheap, easy and as comfortable as possible so that people are tempted to leave their car at home and use it.

A one year super saver ticket to get to London and back each day including tube journey’s will be over £2500 and for that you could buy a cheap car for £500, insure it for £300 and use the rest for petrol. It’s no choice really unless you haven’t got that sort of money or don’t have a driving licence.

The recent weather brought up an interesting reminder of why privatisation was totally wrong for our railway service as the majority of services in the South East were constantly cancelled because of too much snow. Apparently when British Rail was still alive there was a big fleet of snow ploughs that were regularly tested every year to ensure that if bad weather was a problem it could be solved very quickly and without causing too many delays for passengers.

However in the run up to privatisation to save money and to make the company profitable all these snow ploughs were sold without a second thought. As am ex British Rail worker who called into the Wright Stuff on Channel 5 last week said: when a company is run for profit and the amount of money lost from cancelled services is less than the amount taken to buy, maintain and test these snow ploughs they chose the former because profit comes above all other factors in a private company.

Short sighted? Most definitely. However because the railways basically have a captive customer base with no real competition to turn to apart from the car the “for profit” rail companies can put customer service at the bottom of their priority list and continue to offer appalling bad and costly services that seem to stop at the slightest hint of bad weather.

Now I know that British Rail was not perfect and money was surely wasted like most public bodies that don’t know how to manage themselves efficiently but at least the railway was a national service that was owned by the people for the people. I know some people may think this sounds like socialism but if it works then so what. Not everything in life should be about money and when there is no possibility of having a real free market anyway there seems little point in giving away such an important state asset as Thatcher did with British Rail.

I am not against privatisation and it has worked well in other areas in driving costs to the consumer down and improving services but the railway has always been one of those nationalised assets that should have remained on the governments books and run for the good of the country and not for profit at the expense of good service.

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