True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities of privatisation; No 94: so you want the express to go faster?
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The Independent Online
One of the old railway traditions was that expresses were given priority over local trains. That makes sense because the expresses are going farther and are likely to be carrying many more people.

But it no longer happens. Laurence Canty travels frequently from Lancaster to London on InterCity West Coast's Royal Scot, scheduled to leave Lancaster at 11.55 am, and twice recently it has been delayed by about 10 minutes. Both times the express found itself behind the local Regional Railways North West 12.04 train for Liverpool, which it cannot get past until Preston.

Mr Canty spoke about this to several rail officials who confirmed that, under the new rules governing privatisation, "all trains are treated equally" and none is given precedence over any other.

This uncharacteristic socialist ethos is governed by the fact that all train operators have individual contracts with Railtrack, which fines them if they cause delays or, in turn, pays them compensation if the delay is Railtrack's fault.

Therefore, if Railtrack, which controls the signalling, made the local train late, the train operator would be entitled to compensation from Railtrack.

On the other hand, the InterCity West Coast train's problem may not be the responsibity of Railtrack, in which case Railtrack would receive a fine of pounds 80 per minute.

'The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster' by Christian Wolmar, which includes more than 60 items from this column, has just been published by Ian Allan at pounds 5 99. If you have difficulty obtaining a copy, send a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to: The Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY. (Tel: 01932 855909 ex 235/236).

Examples of railway folly should be sent in envelopes marked "Mad" to:

Christian Wolmar, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL.