Leading Article: More power to the Clark Kent of the railways

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The Independent Culture
TOM WINSOR is an unlikely hero. The new rail regulator looks like an unassuming man in glasses, but he has already struck some powerful blows for the rail traveller and the credibility of state regulation. His threat last week of a pounds 40m fine for Railtrack if it fails to cut delays is now followed up with the threat of pounds 50m more if it does not fix the crumbling network it inherited from the public sector.

This newspaper has consistently argued that rail privatisation has been a victim of its own success, with a rise in passenger traffic producing overcrowding, complaints and a system of perverse incentives. We need greater rewards for better service, backed up by tough penalties for failure enforced by a dynamic and crusading regulator. Mr Winsor could be that man, the Clark Kent of the rail renaissance.

His success matters beyond the railways, however. Huge swathes of our economic lives are governed by regulators. On the whole, they have been under-powered, reactive and poor at explaining themselves to the public.

If Mr Winsor can knock the railways into shape, he will deserve our gratitude. But if his aggressive stance heralds a new breed of confident, populist, American-style trust-busters, he will be performing the greatest service of all.