Who wants the railways to be privatised?

COMMENT

The views we publish on this page on the privatisation of British Rail come from a wide section of opinion - expert and political, foreign and domestic. None of it comes from the most obvious antagonists of the Government's proposals, the Labour Party, and yet none of it offers more than the faintest support for government intentions.

Why, then, are John Major and John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, so determined to press ahead? The core of the Government's reasoning was set out in a letter from Mr MacGregor to newspaper editors when the railways Bill was published last week. Of British Rail, Mr MacGregor wrote: 'The existing culture is more about keeping the trains running than the market- oriented thrust of identifying what the customer wants and then being flexible enough to deliver it.' This market-speak of thrust and flexibility will, we are promised, deliver 'a better railway service' and 'greater value for public money' and take us grandly into 'the 21st century'.

Most people would prefer a closer and more certain destination: East Grinstead or Glasgow, say, in frequent, clean and comfortable trains that keep to time. A culture committed to keeping the trains running, backed by the kind of substantial investment enjoyed by other European countries, has been proved throughout the world to be the best method of getting there.

Train travel in this country threatens under privatisation to become a public curiosity, rather as it started. In London in 1808 (left), Richard Trevithick built a circular track surrounded by a high fence, and the curious paid to see a little engine going nowhere but round and round.

THE TORIES?

'I do not believe it is possible to privatise the railways. . . . Last year the railways lost pounds 763m, of which the London area accounted for pounds 182m. No one would want to take on a loss of that size . . . unlike roads, rail tracks go from A to B and you cannot change the routes. Further, each train is tailor-made to its track. You cannot change the nature, speed and method of traction. . . .' Lord Ridley, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. (Evening Standard, 30 Nov 1992)

'I begin to wonder if we aren't trying to privatise some things which basically can't or shouldn't be privatised . . . whether we should be thinking about privatising coal or the railways.' Lord Young of Graffham, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. (Jan 1993)

'Am I absolutely sure it will be a success? No, I'm not.' Lord Whitelaw, former Home Secretary. (Panorama, 14 Dec 1992)

'The Government should . . . return privatisation to the drawing board.' Daily Telegraph. (Leading article, 4 Dec 1992)

'All businesses are better run as profit-making private companies than huge state monoliths. But Mr MacGregor has made it clear that his slow train to privatisation will require ribbons of red tape. The list of quangos he proposes to create could have been drawn up by a Labour government in the 1960s . . . the Government . . . would be wise to rethink this risky undertaking.' Daily Express. (Leading article, 23 Jan 1993)

THE CUSTOMERS?

'Do you think services would improve or get worse if British Rail were privatised or would services not be affected?'

Get worse 40 per cent; improve 33 per cent; not be affected 15 per cent; don't know 11 per cent. NOP opinion poll. (October 1992)

'Leaving network benefits to the market will not work in passengers' interests, and could lead to back-door fare increases: where a passenger travels out by one operator's service on a reduced fare and wishes to return by another's, there is every prospect that the difference in fare . . . may be levied . . . it will be passengers who pay the price as operators seek to maximise profits.' Central Transport Consultative Committee, the statutory 'watchdog' representing rail users. (22 Oct 1992)

'If a licence fee is to be charged to operators on a flat-rate basis, as with road vehicles, there seems to be little point in taking the track into private ownership . . . Conversely, if the charges are to be variable . . . Railtrack will have to charge far more heavily for rural lines than for urban or main line ones . . . As long as road pricing is not generally applicable, track charges would seem to be discriminatory.' National Consumer Council. (11 Nov 1992)

'I think we have had one letter; one.' Mike Patterson, Secretary, Central Transport Consultative Committee, asked how many letters had backed BR privatisation. (Select Committee on Transport hearing, 11 Nov 1992)

THE EXPERTS?

'Our witnesses - including financiers, lawyers, leasing companies, prospective franchisees and respected transport professionals - have frequently been sympathetic to the concept of greater private-sector involvement in the provision of railway services. However, few . . . endorsed the Government's specific proposals.' Select Committee on Transport. (Interim report, 13 Jan 1993)

'Would you agree or disagree with the following contentious statement . . . that the Government could be accused of having starved the railways of investment for some years, failed to produce a long-term plan or the necessary funds to implement it and, by cutting . . . grant over a period of years, increased the number of complaints and, as a result of the increase in the number of complaints, have produced a proposal which might be considered more dogmatic than pragmatic? . . . I am a Conservative Member of Parliament, so it could not possibly be my views, I am just trying to draw you out, you understand.' Robert Adley, chairman of the Transport Committee.

'I would agree.' Bernard North, Institution of Civil Engineers.

'I would agree.' Tony Young, Institution of Civil Engineers. (Committee hearing, 11 Nov 1992)

'The economics of railways may not attract private-sector investment.' David Clark, head of privatisation unit, Barclays De Zoete Wedd. (25 Nov 1992)

'Several European railways have followed in principle British Rail's lead in internal creation of individual profit-centred businesses, and subordination to them of the production functions. Britain's Transport Minister appears to anticipate the same Continental respect for his privatisation scheme. It will be astonishing, however, if any Continental European government, let alone its railway, views this as better than a dogma-driven exercise, utterly irrelevant to national need.' Jane's World Railways. (August 1992)

'Uncertainty over privatisation is affecting rail investment, especially for companies concerned with track and signalling . . . if the industry is forced to cut capacity because of these short-term problems, any future new orders will have to go overseas.' Steer Davies and Gleave, independent transport analysts. (27 Oct 1992)

'If you take the Clapham train crash, which was caused by signals failure . . . it would be impossible . . . for the traveller to know whether to sue the train operator, Railtrack, who run the signals, or the owner of a sold-off Clapham station.' Theodore Goddard, solicitors. (22 Jan 1993)

'Government plans . . . ignore the need for investment, exacerbate the growing imbalance between road and rail funding and lack a coherent strategic plan for their integration within Britain's transport system.' Royal Institution of

Chartered Surveyors. (22 Jan 1993)

THE RAIL BOSSES?

'My view is that a railway should meet the social needs of the country as well as the economic needs. There is plenty of opportunity for the private sector to come in and assist that process, but whether the best way of doing that is by breaking up the railway I have doubts. You could mould it and bend it; but if you restructure it, the chances are that you could break it . . . it will take a long time to put it together again.' Sir Bob Reid, BR chairman. (The World This Weekend, BBC Radio 4, 20 Dec 1992)

'Logic has been abandoned a long time ago. . . . In my opinion there is no way that private operators will make money out of operating trains. . . . The Civil Service has always wanted to close lines to save money, as Beeching did in the closure programme of the 1960s. But some of the lines closed were essential feeder lines to other lines. Without them, the lines identified as profitable suddenly became underused and unprofitable. . . . Why are we doing this?' Lord Marsh, former Minister of Transport, former BR chairman. (Transport committee hearing, 9 Dec 1992)

'You cannot do business on an old railway if there are new roads and airports. You must first invest, then you can privatise. I don't see any commitment in your Government's proposal to modernising the railway network.' Anders Lundberg, Swedish State Railways. (Transport committee hearing, 9 Dec 1992)

THE INDUSTRIALISTS?

'There will be a daunting array of regulators involved in the running of the railways. Far from encouraging private-sector interest, there is a real danger that privatisation will be a blueprint for bureaucracy. We urge the Government to think hard before going ahead with this legislation.' Howard Davies, director general, CBI. (21 Oct 1992)

'There is nothing that will adjust the cost structure or improve the flexibility of rail services to make it more competitive with road transport.' Freight Transport Association. (18 Nov 1992)

'We are deeply sceptical about the proposals. . . . The Government should look at what services the railways should provide in 10, 20 or 30 years' time and then decide on what parts of the railway should be publicly or privately owned. Investors will be deterred by the clapped-out services; they will cherry-pick the lines that have seen investment.' Sir Alastair Morton, chief executive, Eurotunnel. (Transport Committee hearing, 2 Dec 1992)

THE PRIVATE OPERATORS?

'We would want control of the track bed. We don't want the track authority running it because it would then control departure time and speed, on which our competitiveness would depend.' David Benson, vice-president, Sea Containers. (Nov 1992)

'At the moment we are not in a position to say if we will proceed.' Bob Tebb, development manager of Yorkshire Rider, a company named by the Department of Transport as interested in operating private services. (Nov 1992)

'I frequently ask myself who these 50 companies (named by Department of Transport as potential private operators) are. I haven't been able to find them.' Michael Roberts, CBI policy adviser. (Nov 1992)

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil