James Moore: Living proof that state-run railways can be a success


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The Independent Online

Outlook Is it possible to find a privatisation less loved than the sell-off of the railways? Shabby, British Rail may have been, but at least it was possible to get around the country with a single ticket.

The dogs dinner of a sell-off that split it into operating companies and track provider has produced a succession of disasters, both financial and horribly physical.

At a more mundane level travellers now suffer a bewildering array of tariffs and a culture in which service sometimes seems to have become a dirty word within the train operating companies despite their enjoying state support in the form of subsidies.

And yet yesterday came evidence that it can actually work. Directly Operated Railways, which runs the East Coast line, last year handed more than £200m back to the Government. Its subsidy is lower than other lines, and revenues from various sources (ticketing, catering etc) are on a satisfyingly upward curve.

The huge irony is that all this has been achieved not by a private operator but under the auspices of the state, giving lie to the questionable notion that things are always done better by the private sector. You'd think that a rational Government might want to take credit for this. But, no. The line, which is only in Government hands after National Express controversially handed it back, is slated for another sell-off even though the benefit this would provide to the Chancellor's bare coffers – much less the experience of passengers – is questionable.

Sadly, when there's a battle to be had between ideology and common sense, ideology wins every time with the current political class.

As ever passenger' interests will be at the back of the queue when the sell-off parameters are set although it might be wise to at least hold a review into why the operation of this part of the railway has been so financially successful so at least the taxpayer's is protected.