It’s been a strange couple of days for news regarding Britain’s rail network.
Yesterday we heard that fares will be going up yet again, and in an extremely complex pricing system, it is not immediately clear which fares will be going up, nor by how much. What is clear, is that the Government has little control and the franchise companies are free to exploit the passenger as much as they like. Prices are extortionate as it is. This is ridiculous in a time when we are supposed to be trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
And as if by magic, today – less than 24 hours after that bad news – the Government has announced that the rail network will be receiving £8bn of investment. This will include 2,000 new carriages to ease overcrowing, and improvements to some lines. But with such a creaking system, £8bn will not go very far. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the profits that the operating companies enjoy. Overall Rail journeys have dipped slightly in the last year, which is hardly surprising given the ever-increasing prices. The sad fact is, that thanks to Thatcherite free market ideology, the Government has next to no control over such a vital part of this country’s infrastructure.
As I have documented on this blog before, most European rail networks are run as a national operation, and are much more frequent, efficient, punctual, safer and cheaper than in Britain. But for some reason, flying in the face of all this evidence, the argument ran in Britain that the rail network needed private enterprise to work. Privatisation hasn’t unleashed a ‘golden age of investment’, rather a dark age of shareholder exploitation, laziness and contempt for the customer. The same argument also runs for local buses too.
The fares will go up in January (a matter of weeks), but passengers will have to wait years to see the improvements (if at all).