Sunday, February 25, 2007

pro-nationalisation? why, just why?

Like most of you, I'm sure, I feel for all those involved in Friday's tragic train crash.

However, on reading various comments - such as those on the BBC News page - I am left speechless at the few who feel the need to spin out this latest incident to promote their blinkered and narrow minded call for renationalisation.

It may not surprise you to know that I am not a fan of nationalisation (consider the disaster that the British car industry became in the 1970s, for a start). Almost by default therefore I must be pro-privatisation, and certainly my experience of the post-privatisation railway is a postive one, with a much better service on offer - a point proven by the vast increase in passenger numbers - and marred only by incompetent governmental interference.

Even if you disagree with me however, I think you'd be hard pushed to legitimately use Friday's accident to argue your point . Would it have still occurred under a nationalised system? Probably. And consider this; as it stands, defective points are thought to be to blame. Points, which are maintained, directly, by the government's Network Rail. On the other hand, the train - designed, built, and pushed in to service as a result of the vision and investment from a private company - survived an impact at 95mph more or less intact, saving many lives as a reuslt.

I rest my case.

Actually, I would rest my case here, but I would like to add one more point. A while back, amidst a few 'untruths', Railtrack was disbanded at a large cost to the shareholders, and Network Rail was formed. I think safety reasons were cited. Something to do with an incident involving defective points was the catalyst, if I remember rightly...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

From a legal point of view, saying "I rest my case" does not actually entitle you to make any further points in favour of your arguement!

Scott said...

Order, order!

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nim said...

Jim, "governmental interference" usually involves the government bailing out the train companies because they're losing money. Few companies make a profit when running a train service; they just ask for public money, giving the reason that they're running a public service. So nationalise it now and skip the middle-man!

Also, I agree with your point about how safe the train was, but I don't think it had anything to do with it being privatised, it was just a very well-built train! I've been on a lot of "private companies"' trains I doubt would have survived so well.

Sam said...

"Governmental interference" actually refers to them restricting what the operators are allowed to do, and asking for extremely large sums of money just for the privelege of doing what the government tells them to.

GNER has gone under because they can no longer afford the payments the government is demanding.

Many rail operators are running vastly reduced timetables because the government won't let them do what they want.

The rail operators could make a lot of money if the government stopped interfering.

The safety of the train was down to Virgin (and not the government). Chances are, those trains you've been on that would not have survived so well are probably operated by companies who can't afford to purchase new rolling stock because of the payments the government demand.

The railways would be far better if the government stopped interfering and let the operators do what they want.

Alasdair said...

Sam, you've got to be kidding.

>GNER has gone under because they can no longer afford the payments the government is demanding.

You ignore the fact that GNER agreed to pay those huge fees. It was their own fault for hugely overbidding for the franchise.

>The safety of the train was down to Virgin (and not the government)

The safety of the train was down to the fact that it was modern. As far as I know Richard Branson didn't design the train himself, and the West Coast upgrade has involved a fair amount of government subsidy, so I don't think privatisation can take all the credit.

As for your claim that the invisible hand of the market would run the trains better than current government tampering, consider buses. Which part of the country has had the most success at getting people onto buses? London, where Ken's allowed to regulate the services that the private companies provide.

Sam said...

> You ignore the fact that GNER agreed to pay those huge fees. It was their own fault for hugely overbidding for the franchise.

Hardly. Grand Central, who also operate on the same line, do not have to pay the same charges. Quite ridiculous - it's almost as if the government demanded cash that GNER could not afford so they could run the franchise for them, which is what has now happened.

GNER could not afford the payments because of the July 2005 bombings and the hike in electricity prices. You would expect the government to assist them, but they didn't, so they got what they wanted.

>I don't think privatisation can take all the credit.

True. But it can take some because it was Virgin who purchased the trains. I'd be very surprised if a nationalised railway would use similarly modern rolling stock.

Why do you think nationalisation is such a good idea anyway? Were the railways in a good state when British Rail existed? I think not.

>Which part of the country has had the most success at getting people onto buses? London, where Ken's allowed to regulate the services that the private companies provide.

Bus patronage is only rising in London because Ken is charging stupidly high tube fares and there is a stupidly high congestion charge in place.

As the government continue to increase how much they regulate in other parts of the UK, bus travel continues to fall.

Anonymous said...

'Stupidly high tube fares' are definitely not pushing people off the tube onto buses, you just need to try catching a tube at rush hour to see that! And bus fares are actually rising in line with tube fares, both of which are excellent value for money (if you use oyster - I pity tourists who have to pay cash prices).

Alasdair said...

>Grand Central, who also operate on the same line, do not have to pay the same charges.

Grand Central aren't running any trains yet, so I see them as a side issue. In any case, it's unrealistic to expect a new entrant pay the same amount of money on untested routes as for a cash cow like the east coast franchise.

>GNER could not afford the payments because of the July 2005 bombings and the hike in electricity prices.

Perhaps, but also because they massively overbid for the franchise. The 7/7 bombings were perhaps unforeseen, but one of the supposed advantages of the private sector is that it's meant to be better at handling risk. There's no advantage to the government if they let the private operators take the profit when the times are good and bail them out when they mess up. Nobody forced GNER to overbid. If they didn't take account of a rise in energy costs then that's their own fault.

Given that they couldn't pay up the money they had promised, I don't see what is wrong with putting the franchise out to tender again. I'm sure that will be better value for the government than they humbley accepted whatever new amount GNER graciously offered them.


>I'd be very surprised if a nationalised railway would use similarly modern rolling stock.

Why? I think that the Pendolino trains are a result of a need for fast tilting trains on the curvy west coast mainline, which has been upgraded using private capital and massive public subsidies. I don't think the private/nationalised railways debate comes into it. Why could a nationalised railway not have upgraded the West Coast mainline? And if it did, why would it buy less safe rolling stock?

Why do you think nationalisation is such a good idea anyway?

>I didn't say that nationalisation was a good idea

Were the railways in a good state when British Rail existed? I think not.

>I'm not arguing that the railways haven't improved over the last 10 years, but in that time the public subsidy has tripled, and passengers have suffered above inflation fare increases. There's far more money being spent on the railways today than in the 'dark, old' BR days.You'll have trouble convincing me that improvements are down to privitisation, and not simply the huge increase in spending.

Bus patronage is only rising in London because Ken is charging stupidly high tube fares and there is a stupidly high congestion charge in place.

>perhaps, or maybe it's because forcing the bus companies to run services responsive to the needs of Londoners is working better than a laissez faire approach, which results in companies playing stupid games trying to trump each other on the most profitable routes to the detriment of other commuters. Then again I think the priority for public transport is having useful affordable services for commuters rather than the maximisation of the the operators profits. I'm not convinced those aims are complimentary all the time.

>As the government continue to increase how much they regulate in other parts of the UK, bus travel continues to fall.

I'd be interested if you could cite that

Anonymous said...

sorry, that messed up the position of the > signs in the above post

JP said...

Ooh look what I've started.

Alasdair, you make an interesting point about Grand Central not being expected to pay. Why should anyone be expected to pay?

Aside from costs and any legitimate taxation, I don't think any private company should have to pay anything to the government. The principle behind privatisation is that a private company should be able to do the job more efficiently, improve the service to the consumer and still take a fair profit. To add 'feed Gordon Brown's budget black hole' in to the equation, bleeding anyone who tries dry in the process, just isn't fair.

You argue, not without justification, that GNER should have planned better, and should not have over-bid. In some ways that is fair, but – as with all new franchises – the government have also cut right back on their support and subsidy whilst tightening the rules and regulations.

A lot of GNER’s problems have been unforeseen, and there have been a series of unfortunate events – not helped by the bankruptcy of their parent company (Sea Containers) for completely unrelated reasons. Arguably the government shouldn’t have to offer help, but they’ve not exactly made life easy and there are most probably a few hands tied behind backs.

If the government doesn’t pay subsidy it shouldn’t have the right to interfere beyond the basic specification of running the railway. If you want to know what I mean by ‘incompetent governmental interference’, consider these facts:

- Midland Mainline ordered some new 8 car trains three or four years ago. They sat in store for the best part of a year whilst the DfT dithered about whether to go ahead with the agreement with Midland Mainline or deploy them elsewhere. At one point I believe it was contemplated not using them here at all, and sending them over to Belgium (no doubt at a loss).

- First Great Western have had some quite stringent franchise commitments to meet since the new franchise came in last year. Despite original plans, the DfT have done a U-turn on the leasing arrangements for some rolling stock. I understand that there are 10 or 12 trains in store, whilst FGW are forced to use units known to be unsuitable on some branch lines. The net result in this area is blatant with all the over-crowding and cancellations we have experienced. Remember that FGW ran the franchise successfully, with marked improvements to the service, until the government clamped down with the new arrangements.

- South West Trains took 24 perfectly serviceable trains off-lease last month, and have dealt with the seating reduction by putting ‘suburban’ trains with 3+2 seating on some long distance services. This is all in the name of meeting new franchise requirements (again, they were doing an excellent job until the new rules came in) and the net result can be seen in the dissatisfaction of the punters, which has hit the news.

Of course, it's still easy to blame the private companies. I did think it was quite significant last week however when the BBC News reader emphasises the fact that "for the first time Network Rail has not got a private company to hide behind". I wonder if they'd have been so quick to have offered an apology if they could have blamed a private contractor.

alasdair said...

>Why should anyone be expected to pay?

Because some franchises are extremely profitable. If you didn't make train companies pay to use them, then the money will end up as shareholders profits. There would be little incentive to reduce train fairs since most of the time there's not competing operators on the same route.

If franchises pay for the right to run profitable routes, that money can be spent elsewhere on the railways.

As for your catalogue of government interfering disasters, I don't know enough about the individual cases. The Worst Late Western protesters certainly thought that First deserved some of the blame. I'm not denying that people at the DfT can be idiots, but you're naive to think that the franchise holders aren't capable of playing games to increase the bottom line.

Their primary motivation is profit, not a good railway service, and these two aims are not always complimentary.